JRD Tata - Cool video of founder JRD Tata enacting first flight landing in 1962
And an excerpt from The Creation of Wealth, R. M. Lala's celebrated story of the House of Tata : "On an exciting October dawn in 1932, a Puss Moth and I soared joyfully from Karachi with our first precious load of mail, on an inaugural flight to Bombay. As we hummed towards our destination at a 'dazzling' hundred miles an hour, I breathed a silent prayer for the success of our venture and for the safety of those who worked for it. We were a small team in those days. We shared successes and failures, the joys and headaches, as together we built up the enterprise which later was to blossom into Air-India and Air-India International."
When JRD landed on the Juhu mud flats that October day in 1932, India's first air service was inaugurated. He does not take the credit for it. He gives it instead to a far-seeing Englishman - a former officer of the RAF called Nevill Vintcent, who a year earlier had come to India barnstorming the country giving joy rides. Nevill Vintcent offered J. R. D. Tata a project to start an airline. The then Chairman of Tata Sons, Sir Dorab Tata, was not a bit enthusiastic about the proposition. But the initial investment was small - Rs. 200,000 - and he was persuaded by JRD's mentor and colleague John Peterson to give his approval.
"We had no aids whatsoever on the ground or in the air," JRD recalls, "no radio, no navigational or landing guides of any kind. In fact we did not even have an aerodrome in Bombay. We used a mud flat at Juhu (fishing village-cum-beach resort near the city). The sea was below what we called our airfield, and during the monsoon the runway was below the sea! So we had to pack up each year, lock, stock and barrel - two planes, three pilots and three mechanics, and transfer ourselves to Poona (Pune) where we were allowed to use a maidan as an aerodrome, appropriately under the shadow of the Yeravada Jail!"
The annual report of the Directorate of Civil Aviation (DCA) of India for the year 1933-34 stated:
"As an example how airmail service should be run, we commend the efficiency of Tata Services who on October 10, 1933, arriving at Karachi as usual to time, completed a year's working with 100 per cent punctuality... even during the most difficult monsoon months when rainstorms increased the perils of the Western Ghat portion of the route no mail from Madras or Bombay missed connection at Karachi nor was the mail delivered late on a single occasion at Madras... our esteemed Trans-Continental Airways, alias Imperial Airways, might send their staff on deputation to Tatas to see how it is done."
Karachi was chosen as the starting point because Imperial Airways terminated there with the mail from England and the route chosen by Tatas was Karachi-Bombay-Madras. Tatas requested the Government for a small subsidy for carrying the mail as was the normal practice in other countries. The subsidy asked for was small but the Government declined. Tatas reduced the figure to a bare minimum. Government still declined. So Tatas decided that they would just give the service to the country collecting the little stamp surcharge which the addressor put on the envelope to connect it with the Imperial Airways at Karachi. When asked why they did so, JRD replied, "Vintcent and I had faith in the future of aviation and believed that if we came in at the beginning of an era we had a better chance ultimately to achieve growth and leadership in the field."
The unfolding years were to justify that faith. In 1936 the all-up Empire Mail Service was launched by the British Government, under which all first class mail travelled by air without surcharge, and Tata Airlines' revenues soared. At the beginning the aeroplanes used were so small that the service was restricted to mail, but a single passenger was occasionally allowed to sit on top of the mail bags - usually with his heels higher than his head!
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