Air India is the flag carrier airline of India, headquartered at New Delhi. It is owned by Air India Limited, a government-owned enterprise, and operates a fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft serving 94 domestic and international destinations. The airline has its hub at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, alongside several focus cities across India. Air India is the largest international carrier out of India with an 18.6% market share. Over 60 international destinations are served by Air India across four continents. The airline became the 27th member of Star Alliance on 11 July 2014.
The airline launched its first domestic flight from Bombay to Trivandrum with a six-seater Miles Merlin. In 1938, it was re-christened as Tata Air Services and later as Tata Airlines. Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Delhi were added to the destinations in 1938. During the Second World War, the airline helped the Royal Air Force with troop movements, shipping of supplies, rescue of refugees and maintenance of aircraft.
As Air India
Air India became the first Asian carrier to induct a jet aircraft, with the Boeing 707-420Gauri Shankar
In 1953, the Government of India passed the Air Corporations Act and purchased a majority stake in the carrier from Tata Sons though its founder J. R. D. Tata would continue as Chairman till 1977. The company was renamed as Air India International Limited and the domestic services were transferred to Indian Airlines as a part of a restructuring. From 1948 to 1950, the airline introduced services to Nairobi in Kenya and to major European destinations Rome, Paris and Düsseldorf. The airline took delivery of its first Lockheed Constellation L-1049 and inaugurated services to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore.
On 21 February 1960, Air India International inducted its first Boeing 707-420, thereby becoming the first Asian airline to enter the Jet Age. The airline inaugurated services to New York on 14 May 1960. On 8 June 1962, the airline's name was officially truncated to Air India and on 11 June 1962, Air India became the world's first all-jet airline. In 1971, the airline took delivery of its first Boeing 747-200B named Emperor Ashoka (registered VT-EBD) and introduced a new Palace in the Sky livery and branding. In 1986, Air India took delivery of its first Airbus A310-300. In 1993, Air India took delivery of a Boeing 747-400 named Konark (registered VT-ESM) and operated the first non-stop flight between New York and Delhi.
In 2000-01, attempts were made to re-privatize Air India. In 2000, Air India introduced services to Shanghai, China. On 23 May 2001, the Ministry of Civil Aviation charged Michael Mascarenhas, the then-managing director, with corruption. According to the ministry reports, the airline lost approximately (US$8.2 million) because of extra commissions that Mascarenhas sanctioned and he was later suspended from the airline. In May 2004, Air India launched a wholly owned low cost subsidiary called Air-India Express connecting cities in India with the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Until 2007, Air India mainly operated on international long-haul routes while Indian Airlines operated on domestic and international short-haul routes.
Indian Airlines merger
In 2007, Air India and Indian Airlines were merged under Air India Limited and the airline took delivery of its first Boeing 777 aircraft. The airline was invited to be a part of the Star Alliance in 2007.
The combined losses for Air India and Indian Airlines in 2006-07 were (US$110 million) and after the merger, it went up to (US$1.0 billion) by March 2009. In July 2009, State Bank of India was appointed to prepare a road map for the recovery of the airline. The carrier sold three Airbus A300 and one Boeing 747-300M in March 2009 for $18.75 million to finance the debt. By March 2011, Air India had accumulated a debt of (US$6.2 billion) and an operating loss of (US$3.2 billion), and was seeking (US$6.2 billion) from the government. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General blamed the decision to buy 111 new aircraft and the ill-timed merger with Indian Airlines for the poor financial situation. In August 2011, the invitation to join Star Alliance was suspended as a result of its failure to meet the minimum standards for the membership. The government pumped (US$460 million) into Air India in March 2012.
On 1 March 2009, Air India made Frankfurt Airport its international hub for onward connections to the United States from India. However, the airline shut down the Frankfurt hub on 30 October 2010 because of high operating costs. In 2010, financially less lucrative routes were terminated and the airline planned to open a new hub for its international flights at Dubai. In 2012, a study commissioned by the Corporate Affairs Ministry recommended that Air India should be partly privatised. In May 2012, the carrier invited offers from banks to raise up $800 million via external commercial borrowing and bridge financing. In May 2012, the airline was fined $80,000 by the US Transportation Department for failing to post customer service and tarmac delay contingency plans on its website and adequately inform passengers about its optional fees.
In 2013, the then-Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh stated privatisation was the key to the airline's survival. However, the opposition led by the BJP and the CPI(M) slammed the government. In 2013, the Indian government planned to delay equity infusion of (US$4.3 billion) that was slated to be infused into the airline slowly over a period of eight years. In January 2013, Air India cleared a part of its pending dues through funds raised by selling and leasing back the newly acquired Boeing 787 Dreamliners. In March 2013, the airline posted its first positive EBITDA after almost six years and 20% growth in its operating revenue since the previous financial year. Air India Limited split its engineering and cargo businesses into two separate subsidiaries, Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL) and Air India Transport Services Limited (AITSL) in 2013. In December 2013, the airline appointed veteran pilot SPS Puri as its head of operations. The appointment was criticised by the Air India pilots union as Puri allegedly has multiple violations to his name.
Star Alliance membership
Air India became the 27th member of Star Alliance on 11 July 2014. In August 2015, it signed an agreement with Citibank and State Bank of India to raise $300 million in external commercial borrowing to meet working capital requirements. For FY 2014-15, its revenue, operating loss and net loss were (US$2.9 billion), (US$31 million) and (US$78 million) compared FY 2011-12, which were (US$2.1 billion), (US$74 million) and (US$110 million). As of May 2017, Air India is the third largest carrier in India (after IndiGo and Jet Airways), with a market share of 13%.
On 28 June 2017, the Government of India approved the privatisation of Air India. A committee has been set up to start the process.
Air India Regional was established as Alliance Air, a wholly owned subsidiary of Indian Airlines on 1 April 1996 and started operations on 21 June 1996. It was renamed Air India Regional after the merger between Air India and Indian Airlines. Air India Express began operations on 29 April 2005 and was initially owned by Air India Charters. It operates flights from South India to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Air India became the first Asian airline to operate freighters when Air India Cargo was set up in 1954 and started its freighter operations with a Douglas DC-3 aircraft. Air India Cargo ended freighter aircraft operations in early 2012.
Air India's mascot is the Maharajah (high king). It was created by Bobby Kooka, the then-commercial director of Air India, and Umesh Rao, an artist with J. Walter Thompson Limited in 1946. Kooka stated that, "We call him a Maharajah for want of a better description. But his blood isn't blue. He may look like royalty, but he isn't royal". Air India adopted the Maharajah as its mascot in 1946. It was used in promoting it although initially designed only for the airline's memo-pads. The Maharajah was given a makeover in 2015 and the brand is represented by a younger version.
Logo and livery
Air India's colour scheme is red and white. The aircraft were painted in white with red palace style carvings on the outside of the windows and the airline's name written in red.
The name is written in Hindi on the port side fuselage and in English on the port side tail. On the starboard side fuselage, the name is written in English, and in Hindi on the starboard tail. The window scheme was designed in line with the slogan Your Palace in the Sky. The aircraft were earlier named after Indian kings and landmarks. In 1989, to supplement its Flying Palace livery, Air India introduced a new livery that included a metallic gold spinning wheel on a deep red-coloured tail and a Boeing 747, Rajendra Chola, was the first aircraft to be painted in the new colours.
The first logo of Air India was a centaur, a stylised version of Sagittarius shooting an arrow in a circle representing the wheel of Konark. The logo chosen by founder J. R. D. Tata was introduced in 1948 and represented the airline until 2007. On 22 May 2007, Air India and Indian Airlines unveiled their new livery consisting of a Flying Swan with the wheel of Konark placed inside it. The flying swan was morphed from the centaur logo and the chakra was derived from Indian's erstwhile logo. On 15 May 2007, Air India refreshed its livery, making the Rajasthani arches along the windows slightly smaller, extending a stylised line from the tail of the aircraft to the nose and painting the underbelly red. The new logo features on the tail and the engine covers with red and orange lines running parallel to each other from the front door to the rear door.
In 1932, Air India started operations with a de Havilland Puss Moth. It inducted its first Boeing 707-420 named Gauri Shankar (registered VT-DJJ), thereby becoming the first Asian airline to induct a jet aircraft in its fleet and on 4 August 1993, Air India took the delivery of its first Boeing 747-400 named Konark (registered VT-ESM).
Apart from the Boeing aircraft, Air India also operates a wide range of Airbus aircraft. In 1989, Indian Airlines introduced the Airbus A320-200 aircraft, which Air India now uses to operate both domestic and international short haul flights. In 2005, Indian Airlines introduced smaller A319s, which are now used mainly on domestic and regional routes. After the merger in 2007, Air India inducted the biggest member of the A320 family, the A321, to operate mainly on international short haul and medium haul routes. At the same time, Air India leased Airbus A330s to operate on medium-long haul international routes. Currently Air India has many narrow body aircraft for domestic destinations like A320, A321 and A320 neo. Air India has also many wide body aircraft like Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 747-400 and Boeing 787-8 mainly for international destinations. Air India Express, a subsidiary of Air India has a fleet of 23 Boeing 737-800.
As a part of the financial restructuring, Air India sold five of its eight Boeing 777-200LR aircraft to Etihad Airways in December 2013. According to the airline, plans for introducing ultra-long flights with service to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles were cancelled due to factors like high fuel prices and weak demand. Air India flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco have been resumed with more new international destinations. On 24 April 2014, Air India issued a tender for leasing 14 Airbus A320 aircraft for up to six years, to strengthen its domestic network.
Air India has purchased many Boeing 787-8 dreamliners to strengthen international operations.
Air India aircraft are equipped with Thales i3000 in-flight entertainment system. Passengers can choose from five channels airing Hindi and English content. Air India's Boeing 777, 747 and 787 aircraft are also equipped with personal on demand in-flight entertainment systems on which passengers can choose from available content.Showtime is the official entertainment guide published by Air India. Shubh Yatra (meaning Happy Journey) is a bilingual in-flight magazine published in English and Hindi by Air India.
Frequent flyer programme
Flying Returns is Air India's frequent-flyer programme. It is shared by Air India and its subsidiaries. The points can be redeemed for awards travel on some other airlines.
The Maharaja Lounge (English: Emperor's Lounge) is available for the use of First and Business class passengers. Air India shares lounges with other international airlines at international airports that do not have a Maharaja Lounge available. There are eight Maharaja Lounges:
On 27 December 1947, a Douglas DC-3 (registered VT-AUG) carrying nineteen passengers and four crew en route from Karachi to Bombay, crashed after take-off from Karachi International Airport due to an instrument failure, killing all on board. This was the airline's first fatal accident.
On 13 December 1950, a Douglas DC-3 (registered VT-CFK) carrying 17 passengers and four crew from Bombay to Coimbatore, crashed into high ground near Kotagiri due to a navigational error, killing all on board.
On 15 September 1951, Douglas DC-3 VT-CCA, carrying 23 passengers and four crew from Bangalore to Trivandrum, crashed on take-off, killing a crew member.
On 9 May 1953, Douglas DC-3 registration VT-AUD crashed after take-off from Delhi killing all thirteen passengers and five crew on board.
On 11 April 1955, a bomb exploded in the right main landing gear bay of a Lockheed L-749A Constellation registered VT-DEP, carrying eleven passengers and eight crew from Hong Kong to Jakarta. The right wing caught fire and the crew were forced to attempt a water landing. The wingtip dug into the water and the aircraft crashed, killing sixteen of the occupants.
On 19 July 1959 Rani of Aera, a Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation (registered VT-DIN) carrying 46 people (39 passengers and seven crew) crashed on approach to Santacruz Airport in conditions of poor visibility due to rain. The aircraft suffered damage beyond repair and was written off. There were no fatalities.
On 24 January 1966, Air India Flight 101Kanchenjunga, a Boeing 707-420 (registered VT-DMN) carrying 117 people (106 passengers and 11 crew) crashed on Mont Blanc, France killing all on board including the noted Indian scientist, Homi J. Bhabha.
On 23 June 1985, Air India Flight 182, a Boeing 747-200B registered VT-EFO, was blown up in mid-air by a suitcase-bomb planted by Babbar Khalsa terrorists allegedly as revenge for the Indian Government's operation on the Golden Temple in June 1984. The flight was on the first leg on its Montreal-London-Delhi-Bombay flight when it exploded off the coast of Cork, Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean. All 307 passengers and 22 crew on board died.
On 7 May 1990, Air India Flight 132, a Boeing 747-200B (registered VT-EBO) flying on the London-Delhi-Bombay route carrying 215 people (195 passengers and 20 crew) caught fire on touch down at Delhi airport due to a failure of an engine pylon-to-wing attachment. There were no fatalities but the aircraft was damaged beyond repair and written off.