Press "Enter" to skip to content

JRD Tata, Air India and the determination to fly high

In the last 150 years, a legacy has been created by the Tatas of being the nation-builders in India. From launching the first commercial airlines of India in 1948 to making the first indigenous car – the Tatas have contributed extensively through generations.

Tata Airlines, the first Indian airline that proudly flew in the international skies bearing the Indian flag in the 1940s and 1950s, was founded by JRD Tata. It later became Air India, which started its first international service in 1948 from Mumbai to London, giving the country a proud moment to cherish.

Today, the Indian aviation sector is witnessing a new phase with the merger of Air India and Vistara, at a time when almost half a dozen big and small airlines have been wiped out of the market. As we enter this historic phase, we look back at how meticulously Air India was shaped by JRD Tata to become the one big giant it is today.

JRD and his love for Air India

JRD was firmly determined to make Air India the world’s best airline, despite fierce competition from numerous global airlines. It was important for him because Air India was not any ordinary airline but an airline which carried the image of India across the world.

Harish Bhat’s ‘Tata Stories: 40 Timeless Tales to Inspire You’ narrates how while travelling on Air India’s inaugural international flight, he carefully observed the reaction of his fellow passengers and was relieved when the flight went well and the plane landed on time in London.

“It was for me a great and stirring event… seeing the Indian flag displayed on both sides of the Malabar Princess (the name of that particular aircraft) as she stood proudly on the apron at the airports of Cairo, Geneva and London filled me with joy and emotion,” Tata said.

After this, Tata had an unwavering resolute to make Air India stand out for which he knew high standards of excellence and customer service were required.

To the employees of the airline, he explained, “I want that the passengers who travel with us do not have occasion to complain. I want to establish that there is no airline which is better liked by passengers, that is safer and more punctual, where the food and service is better, and which sets a better image than Air India.”

ALSO READ| Tata Group-owned Air India in talks with Boeing and Airbus to buy planes

In 1949, with his constant efforts and attention to every detail, JRD Tata’s aspirations started turning into reality. On May 7, 1949, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in a letter complimented JRD Tata on the airline’s high-quality service.

“This is just a brief letter to express my great appreciation of the quality of the Air India International Service. I have now travelled on four occasions between India and England in it, and the more experience I have had of it, the better I like it. I think that Air India International has played not an unimportant part in raising the prestige of India abroad… So, congratulations,” wrote Nehru.

Air India soon turned into a legendary airline, known for its punctuality. If stories are to be believed, people residing in Geneva can check the timing in their watches and match it with the time at which a flight of Air India flew over their city.

In the initial days of Air India, JRD would fly once every fifteen days in one of the aircraft. During those flights, he would expect high standards of accuracy in flying, such that pilots would not be willing to fly with him.

Historian RM Lala narrates one such incident when JRD while flying with his co-pilot Capt Visvanath asked him about the ground speed. To which, Visvanath replied, “145 miles per hour.”

However, JRD reworked the calculations and said, “It’s 145.5”. That was the kind of accuracy he would expect so that the airline is always timely.

The blue notes of JRD Tata were an exception in themselves, containing every minute detail and a consistent push to achieve excellence in all aspects big and small. After every flight of Air India he boarded, he would make the ‘blue notes’ and send them to the management, which would be a summary of his detailed observations, including scathing remarks and encouraging comments.

It was this meticulous and detailed observation and determination for achieving perfect excellence which made Air India one of the top airlines in the world in 1968, according to a survey conducted by the Daily Mail, London.

Source: Thanks