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Air India

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Air India
Air India Logo.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded 15 October 1932 (as Tata Airlines)
Commenced operations 29 July 1946; 71 years ago (1946-07-29)[3]
Hubs Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi)
Focus cities
Frequent-flyer program Flying Returns
Alliance Star Alliance
Fleet size 112 (excl. subsidiaries)
Destinations 89
Company slogan Air India... Truly Indian
Parent company Air India Limited
Headquarters Airlines House, Delhi, India[4]
Key people
Revenue Increase 215 billion (US$3.4 billion) (FY 2015–16)
Operating income Increase1.05 billion (US$16 million) (FY 2015–16)[5][6]
Net income Decrease 26.36 billion (US$410 million) (FY 2015–16)[5][7]
Employees 20,956 (November 2016)

Air India is the flag carrier airline of India.[8] It is owned by Air India Limited, a government-owned enterprise, and operates a fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft serving 90 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.[9] Over 60 international destinations are served by Air India across four continents. Additionally, the carrier is the third largest domestic airline in India in terms of passengers carried (after IndiGo and Jet Airways) with a market share of 13.5% as of July 2017.[10] The airline became the 27th member of Star Alliance on 11 July 2014.

The airline was founded by J. R. D. Tata as Tata Airlines in 1932; Tata himself flew its first single-engine de Havilland Puss Moth, carrying air mail from Karachi to Bombay's Juhu aerodrome and later continuing to Madras (currently Chennai). After World War II, it became a public limited company and was renamed as Air India. On 21 February 1960, it took delivery of its first Boeing 707 named Gauri Shankar and became the first Asian airline to induct a jet aircraft in its fleet.[11] In 2000–01, attempts were made to privatise Air India and from 2006 onwards, it suffered losses after its merger with Indian Airlines.

Air India also operates flights to domestic and Asian destinations through its subsidiaries Alliance Air and Air India Express. Air India's mascot is the Maharajah (Emperor) and the logo consists of a flying swan with the wheel of Konark inside it.


Early years (1932–1945)

as Tata Air Services

Tata Air Service
Vintage photograph of an Air India plane
Tata Sons' Airline Timetable Image, Summer 1935

Air India had its origin as Tata Air Services later renamed to Tata Airlines [12] founded by J. R. D. Tata of Tata Sons, an Indian aviator and business tycoon.[13] In April 1932, Tata won a contract to carry mail for Imperial Airways and the aviation department of Tata Sons was formed with two single-engine de Havilland Puss Moths. On 15 October 1932, Tata flew a Puss Moth carrying air mail from Karachi to Bombay (currently Mumbai) and the aircraft continued to Madras (currently Chennai) piloted by Nevill Vintcent, a former Royal Air Force pilot and friend of Tata.[14] The airline fleet consisted of a Puss Moth aircraft and a de Havilland Leopard Moth.[15][16] Initial service included weekly airmail service between Karachi and Madras via Ahmedabad and Bombay. In its first year of operation, the airline flew 160,000 miles (260,000 km), carrying 155 passengers and 9.72 tonnes (10.71 tons) of mail and made a profit of 60,000 (US$940).[17][18]

as Tata Airlines

The airline launched its first domestic flight from Bombay to Trivandrum with a six-seater Miles Merlin.[19] 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.[14] 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.[14]

Post Independence (1947–2000)

as Air India

Air India became the first Asian carrier to induct a jet aircraft, with the Boeing 707–420 Gauri Shankar

After 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.[3] After Indian independence in 1947, 49% of the airline was acquired by the Government of India in 1948.[20] On 8 June 1948, a Lockheed Constellation L-749A named Malabar Princess (registered VT-CQP) took off from Bombay bound for London Heathrow marking the airline's first international flight.[14]


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[21][22] 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.[23] From 1948 to 1950, the airline introduced services to Nairobi in Kenya and to major European destinations Rome, Paris and Düsseldorf.[24] The airline took delivery of its first Lockheed Constellation L-1049 and inaugurated services to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore.[24]

All Jet fleet

On 21 February 1960, Air India International inducted its first Boeing 707–420, thereby becoming the first Asian airline to enter the Jet Age.[25][26] The airline inaugurated services to New York on 14 May 1960.[24] On 8 June 1962, the airline's name was officially truncated to Air India[3] and on 11 June 1962, Air India became the world's first all-jet airline. Air India was also a launch customer for Boeings newly developed long range jet Boeing 747. In 1971, the airline took delivery of its first Boeing 747-200B named Emperor Ashoka (registered VT-EBD)[27] and introduced a new Palace in the Sky livery and branding. In 1986, Air India took delivery of its first Airbus A310-300.[24] 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.[28]

Post Liberalisation (2000–)

Air India Airbus A310-300. It sold three A300s in March 2009 due to debts
In January 2013, Air India cleared some of its debts by selling and leasing back the newly acquired Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Also, the airline posted its first positive EBITDA after almost six years
Air India joined the Star Alliance in 2014. Pictured is Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner (VT-ANU) in special Star Alliance livery.

In 2000–01, attempts were made to re-privatize Air India.[29][30][31][32] 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 570 million (US$8.9 million) because of extra commissions that Mascarenhas sanctioned and he was later suspended from the airline.[33] 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[34] and the airline took delivery of its first Boeing 777 aircraft.[24] The airline was invited to be a part of the Star Alliance in 2007.[35]

The combined losses for Air India and Indian Airlines in 2006–07 were 7.7 billion (US$120 million) and after the merger, it went up to 72 billion (US$1.1 billion) by March 2009.[36][37] In July 2009, State Bank of India was appointed to prepare a road map for the recovery of the airline.[38] The carrier sold three Airbus A300 and one Boeing 747-300M in March 2009 for $18.75 million to finance the debt.[39] By March 2011, Air India had accumulated a debt of 426 billion (US$6.6 billion) and an operating loss of 220 billion (US$3.4 billion), and was seeking 429 billion (US$6.7 billion) from the government.[40][41] 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.[42][43] 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.[44][45] The government pumped 32 billion (US$500 million) into Air India in March 2012.[46][47]

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.[48] In 2010, financially less lucrative routes were terminated and the airline planned to open a new hub for its international flights at Dubai.[49] In 2012, a study commissioned by the Corporate Affairs Ministry recommended that Air India should be partly privatised.[50] In May 2012, the carrier invited offers from banks to raise up $800 million via external commercial borrowing and bridge financing.[51] 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.[52]

In 2013, the then-Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh stated privatisation was the key to the airline's survival.[53] However, the opposition led by the BJP and the CPI(M) slammed the government.[54] In 2013, the Indian government planned to delay equity infusion of 300 billion (US$4.7 billion) that was slated to be infused into the airline slowly over a period of eight years.[55] 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.[56][57] 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.[58][59] 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.[60][61] 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.[62]

Star Alliance membership

Air India became the 27th member of Star Alliance on 11 July 2014.[63][64] 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.[5] For FY 2014–15, its revenue, operating loss and net loss were 198 billion (US$3.1 billion), 2.171 billion (US$34 million) and 5.41 billion (US$84 million) compared FY 2011–12, which were 147 billion (US$2.3 billion), 5.138 billion (US$80 million) and 7.55 billion (US$120 million).[7][65] As of May 2017, Air India is the third largest carrier in India (after IndiGo and Jet Airways), with a market share of 13%.[66][67][68][69]


On 28 June 2017, the Government of India announced the privatisation of Air India. A committee has been set up to start the process.[70]

Corporate affairs and identity


Air India Building in Mumbai served as Air India's headquarters until 2013
The Maharajah, Air India's mascot
Current logo (from 2007)

Air India Limited is headquartered at the Indian Airlines House, New Delhi.[4][71] Air India moved its headquarters from Air India Building, Mumbai to Delhi in 2013. The former headquarters is a 23-storey tower on Marine Drive and was one of the targets of the 1993 Bombay bombings.[4][72]



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.[73] 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.[74][75]


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.[24] Air India Cargo ended freighter aircraft operations in early 2012.[76]


Air India's mascot is the Maharajah (Emperor).[77][78] 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.[79] 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".[80] 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.[81] The Maharajah was given a makeover in 2015 and the brand is represented by a younger version.[82]

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.[83] The window scheme was designed in line with the slogan Your Palace in the Sky.[24] 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.[24]

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.[84] 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.[85] 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.[78]


As of January 2017, Air India flies to a total of 89 destinations including 52 domestic destinations and 37 international destinations in 27 countries across four continents around the world.[86] Its primary hub is located at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, and it has a secondary hub at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai.[87]

As of October 2016, Air India operates the world's longest nonstop regular scheduled commercial flight, from Delhi to San Francisco flying over the Pacific Ocean, with the total distance flown being over 15,200 kilometres (9,400 mi). Services between the two cities previously operated over the Atlantic Ocean in both directions; the airline changed the service to around-the-world to take advantage of jet stream winds and use less fuel.[88]


Air India became the 27th member of Star Alliance on 11 July 2014.[63][64]

Codeshare agreements

Air India codeshares with the following airlines:[89]


Air India Airbus A320neo
Air India Boeing 747-400

As of 1 September 2017, the Air India (excluding fleet of subsidiaries - Alliance Air and Air India Express) fleet consists of the following aircraft:[90][91]

Air India Fleet
Aircraft In Service Orders Passengers Notes
F J Y Total
Airbus A319-100 22 8 114 122
144 144
Airbus A320-200 17[92] 168 168
12 138 150
Airbus A320neo 8[93] 6 12 150 162[94]
Airbus A321-200 20 12 170 182
Boeing 747-400 4 12 26 385 423
Boeing 777-200LR 3 8 35 195 238
Boeing 777-300ER 12 3[95] 4 35 303 342 Scheduled to be delivered between January and March 2018.
Boeing 787-8 26 [96] 1 [93] 18 238 256 To be delivered by October 2017[97]
Total 112 10

Fleet information

An Air India Boeing 747-400 aircraft used as Air India One

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).[98] 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.[24] In 2005, Indian Airlines introduced smaller A319s, which are now used mainly on domestic and regional routes.[24] 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.

Air India One (also referred to as AI-1 or AIC001) is the call sign of any Air India aircraft carrying the Prime Minister, President or the Vice-President.[99][100] Air India One operates on one of the five Boeing 747-400s that Air India currently owns as VIP flights. Customised Embraer 135 and Boeing Business Jets are also used.[101][102][103]

Fleet restructuring

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. [104] 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.[105] Air India has purchased many Boeing 787-8 dreamliners to strengthen international operations.

Formerly operated

Air India Airbus A310-300 in 2004
Boeing 707 in 1976
Air India Lockheed Super Constellation in 1961 at Prague Ruzyně Airport
Air India Douglas DC-3 at Heathrow Airport in 1958

Apart from the aircraft listed above, Air India operated several other aircraft. Air India operated the de Havilland Puss Moth, de Havilland Fox Moth, Waco YQC-6, de Havilland Dragon Rapide, Percival Petrel, Douglas DC-2, Douglas DC-3, Vickers VC.1 Viking, Lockheed L-749 Constellation, Douglas DC-4 and the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation up to 1960. Thereafter, Air India started operating the Boeing 707 and the de Havilland Comet.[107]


Business Class seats on board the Boeing 777-200LR/777-300ER
Air India In-Flight entertainment screen
Air India London Heathrow Airport lounge
India's Maharaja Lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City


The Boeing 777-200LR/777-300ER and Boeing 747-400 aircraft operated on long haul flights are in a three-class configuration.[108][109] Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A321 aircraft have a two-class configuration.[110][111] Airbus A320 aircraft operated on domestic- and short haul international flights are in either an all-economy configuration or a two-class configuration.[112][113] Airbus A319 aircraft have a full economy configuration.[114] Air India serves meals on all international flights and on domestic flights with a flight duration of over 90 minutes.[115]

In-flight entertainment

Air India aircraft are equipped with Thales i3000 in-flight entertainment system. Passengers can choose from five channels airing Hindi and English content.[116] 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.[117] 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.[118]

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.[119]

Premium lounges

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.[120] There are eight Maharaja Lounges:[121]


Gulf War evacuation

The airline entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people evacuated by civil airliner.[122] Over 111,000 people were evacuated from Amman to Mumbai, a distance of 4,117 kilometres (2,558 mi), by operating 488 flights from 13 August to 11 October 1990  – lasting 59 days. The operation was carried out during Persian Gulf War to evacuate Indian expatriates from Kuwait and Iraq.[122][123][124][125] The event was later featured in the film Airlift.[citation needed]

Accidents and incidents

  • 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.[126]
  • On 3 November 1950, Air India Flight 245, a Lockheed L-749 Constellation (registered VT-CQP) carrying forty passengers and eight crew on a flight from Bombay to London via Cairo and Geneva, crashed on Mont Blanc in France killing all on board.[127][128]
  • 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.[129]
  • 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.[130]
  • 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.[131]
  • 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.[132][133]
  • 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.[26]
The Air India Memorial in Toronto, Ontario, Canada dedicated to the victims of Air India Flight 182
  • On 24 January 1966, Air India Flight 101 Kanchenjunga, 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.[134]
  • On 1 January 1978, Air India Flight 855 Emperor Ashoka, a Boeing 747-200B (registered VT-EBD) crashed into the Arabian Sea after take-off from Mumbai killing all 190 passengers and 23 crew on board.[27]
  • On 21 June 1982, Air India Flight 403, a Boeing 707–420 (registered VT-DJJ) carrying 99 passengers and 12 crew from Kuala Lumpur to Bombay via Madras crashed while landing at Sahar International Airport during a rainstorm. The fuselage broke apart and seventeen people including two crew members were killed.[135][136]
  • 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.[137]
  • 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.[138]

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