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JRD Tata birth anniversary: Lesser known facts about the industrialist and birth of Tata Airlines

JRD Tata birth anniversary: "We had no aids whatsoever on the ground or in the air... no radio, no navigational or landing guides of any kind. In fact we did not even have an aerodrome in Bombay," he had said recollecting the first air service experience.

July 29, 2022 / 01:17 PM IST
JRD Tata birth anniversary: Air India pilots who worked with him remember JRD Tata as strict but always polite, and a stickler for values like on-time travel and high quality of service. (Image of JRD Tata tweeted by Ratan Tata)

JRD Tata birth anniversary: Air India pilots who worked with him remember JRD Tata as strict but always polite, and a stickler for values like on-time travel and high quality of service. (Image of JRD Tata tweeted by Ratan Tata)


It's the is the 118th birth anniversary of Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata or JRD Tata — visionary industrialist, the longest-serving chairman of Tata group and founder of many Tata companies. He was also the country's first licensed pilot and the only industrialist to have been awarded Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour.

While much about JRD Tata is already known, here are a few lesser known facts about the the father of Indian aviation and the birth of Tata Airlines.

1.) JRD Tata was 15 when he took a joyride in a plane in France, and decided to become a pilot and if possible make a career in aviation. He had to wait nine years before a flying club opened in his home town Bombay. And, although, he was not the first to register, JRD Tata was the first Indian to graduate with 'No. 1' endorsed on his flying licence.

2.) In 1930, JRD Tata won a prize of £500 when he became the first Indian who would fly solo between England and India.

3.) When JRD Tata landed on the Juhu mud flats on October 1932, India's first air service was inaugurated. It was the brainchild of a former officer of the Royal Air Force, Nevill Vintcent. He offered JRD 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.

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4.) In JRD Tata's words, "We had no aids whatsoever on the ground or in the air... 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 Yerwada Jail!"


5.) Describing the performance of Tata's airmail services, the annual report of the Directorate of Civil Aviation (DCA) of India for 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."

6.) 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. When the Tatas requested the government for a small subsidy for carrying the mail, the government 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.

"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," JRD Tata had said when asked why they started collected surcharge.

Read more: Ratan Tata's heartfelt note on JRD Tata birth anniversary: 'What I really miss...'

7.) Soon, as the air service expanded to more routes, the planes became bigger allowing passengers to come onboard and Tata Air Services became Tata Airlines which then developed into Air India.

Here are a few detailed observations made by JRD Tata while flying Air India:


In recognition of his illustrious contribution to aviation, JRD Tata was made the recipient in 1979 of the Tony Jannus Award, named after the founder pilot of the first scheduled airline in the world, which began in Tampa, Florida, in 1912. The Daniel Guggenheim Medal Award was also was presented to him in 1989.

(With inputs from Tata)
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first published: Jul 29, 2022 01:11 pm
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