Air India is the national flag carrier airline of India with a network of passenger and cargo services worldwide. It is one of the two state-owned airlines in the country, the other being Indian Airlines. Its main base is Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai, with hubs at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi and Chennai International Airport. The airline operates flights that connect 39 destinations around the world including 12 gateways in India.
Air India traces its roots back to October 15, 1932 when its founder, J. R. D. Tata flew a single engined De Havilland Puss Moth registered VT-ADN carrying air mail (postal mail of Imperial Airways) from Karachi's Drigh Road Aerodrome to Bombay's Juhu Airstrip via Ahmedabad. The aircraft continued to Madras via Bellary piloted by a Royal Air Force pilot named Neville Vincent. That same year, the airline was formally established as Tata Airlines, a division of Tata Sons Ltd. (now Tata Group), the large Indian industrial house. Following the end of World War II, regular commercial service was restored in India and Tata Airlines became a public limited company on 29 July 1946 under the name Air India.
1948 was a very significant year in the history of the airline as 49% of the airline was acquired by the Government of India, with an option to purchase an additional 2% at any time. In return, the airline was granted status to operate international services from India as the designated flag carrier under the name Air India International. On June 8, 1948 a Lockheed Constellation L-749A named Malabar Princess and registered VT-CQP took off from Bombay bound for London via Cairo and Geneva. This marked the airline's first longhaul international flight, soon followed by service to Nairobi via Aden.
On 1 August 1953, the Government of India chose to exercise its option to purchase a majority stake in the carrier and Air India International Limited was born as one of the fruit of the Air Corporations Act that nationalised the air transportation industry. At the same time all domestic services were transferred to Indian Airlines. In 1954, the airline took delivery of its first L-1049 Super Constellations and inaugurated services to Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Air India International entered the jet age in 1960 as its first Boeing 707 named Nandadevi and registered VT-DJJ was delivered. Jet services to New York via London were inaugurated that same year. On June 8, 1962 the airline's name was officially truncated to its current form of Air India. On June 11, 1962 Air India became the world's first all-jet airline.
In 1970, Air India moved its offices into its own custom built skyscraper in downtown Bombay. The next year, the airline took delivery of its first Boeing 747-200 named Emperor Ashoka and registered VT-EBD. This coincided with the introduction of the 'Palace In The Sky' livery and branding.
In 1986, Air India made the decision to supplement its fleet with Airbus A310s and began to accept delivery of these aircraft later that year. The airline would later become (and remains today) the world's largest operator of this type in passenger service. In 1988, Air India also took delivery of two Boeing 747-300s in mixed passenger-cargo configuration.
In 1989, to supplant its "Flying Palace" livery, Air India introduced a new livery that was mostly white but had a golden sun on a red tail. However, that livery, which was applied to only about half of Air India's fleet, was never very popular, especially among Air India employees, and it lasted only four years.
In 1993, Air India took delivery of the new flagship of its fleet when the first Boeing 747-400 named Konark and registered VT-ESM made history by operating the first ever nonstop flight between New York and Delhi. In 1994 the airline was registered as Air India Ltd. In 1996, the airline inaugurated service to its second US gateway at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. In 1999, the airline opened its dedicated Terminal 2-C at the newly renamed Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai.
The 21st century has seen Air India introduce new services to Shanghai in China, as well as two new US gateways at Newark Liberty International Airport and LAX.
Air-India has registered a profit of Rs 133.85 crores (Approx USD 30 Millions) in the financial year ending March 31, 2003, after taking into account the deferred tax benefit. In the year 2002, it recorded a net profit of Rs 15.44 crores. Air-India earned a total revenue of Rs 5658 crores (Approx USD 1.26 Billions) in 2002-03 as against Rs 5017 crores (Approx USD 1.1 Billions) in the previous year. The airline has ambitious plans to expand its network and acquire new aircraft. The newly elected Government of India has appointed Mr.Praful Patel, as the Minister for Civil Aviation who plans to make the airline "A Maharaja of the Skies ".
In March 2004, Air India started non-stop flights from Ahmedabad's Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport to London, Heathrow, making it the 3rd station from India (after Mumbai and Delhi). In December 2004, Air India leased three Boeing 777-222ER aircraft from United Airlines. With these three new B777s, Air India was able to introduce three new routes: Delhi-Frankfurt-Los Angeles, Delhi-Amritsar-Birmingham-Toronto, and Delhi-Dhaka-Kolkata-London.
Air India operates the following services (at January 2005):
Air India currently caters approximately 44 destinations throughought the world. It also has code-sharing agreements with many international airlines to expand coverage. The airline ferried 3.39 million passengers during the financial year ending March 2003 and achieved a load factor of 71.6 per cent, substantially higher than the 66 per cent load factor recorded in the preceding year. The airline strives to achieve the best in-flight standards and receives a 4 star rating for cabin safety procedures from skytrax airline quality review. Three classes of seats are offered - First class, Executive class and Economy class. Flat bed seats are offered for first class passengers. The airline also offers a frequent flyer programme alone and in collaboration with many of its alliances. The airline also offers luxury lounges in its ground terminals for its First and Executive class travellers in select destinations within India. Air-India has duty free sale on board its flights effective June 1, 2003 named 'sky bazaar', meaning Market in the sky.
In 1954, Air-India commenced its freighter operations with a Douglas DC-3 Dakota aircraft, giving Air-India the distinction of being the first Asian airline to operate freighters. Currently, the airline operates regular Cargo flights to many destinations of the world. The airline also has ground truck-transportation arrangements on select destinations.
An active member of IATA, Air-India carries all types of cargo including dangerous goods (hazardous materials) and live animals, provided such shipments are tendered according to IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations and IATA Live Animals Regulations, respectively.
At the warehouse in Mumbai, Air India has developed an indigenous system of inventory management for cargo handling of import/export functions. This takes care of the entire management of cargo, supports Electronic Data Interface (EDI) messages with Indian Customs and replaces to a great extent existing paper correspondence between Customs, Airlines, and the custodians. This also replaces manual handling and binning of cargo at the warehouse in Mumbai by Air India.
The Airline entered the Guinness Book of World Records - The largest evacuation by a civil airliner, involving evacuation of over 111,000 people from Amman to Mumbai - a distance of 4,117 km, by operating 488 flights in association with Indian Airlines, during August 13 - October 11, 1990, lasting a total of 59 days.The operation was carried out during Persian Gulf War in 1990 to evacuate Indian expatriates from the region .
The airline received The Mercury Award for the years 1994 and 2003, from the International Flight Catering Association, for finest in-flight catering services.
Air India's security department became the first aviation security organisation in the world to acquire ISO 9002-1994 certification(January 31, 2001).
The Department of Engineering, Air India, has obtained the ISO 9002 for its Engineering facilities for meeting international standards.
The Indian Prime Minister's flight operated by Air India is called AI 001.