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Tata Group and the obsession of owning an aviation company

The story of our very own “Desi” conglomerate Tata group and its interest in the field of aviation is intriguing and eventful. The dream started with JRD Tata, also known as Father of Indian Aviation, who was the first person in the country to be issued a pilot’s license. His love towards flying strengthened while competing for Aga Khan Cup where he had to fly solo from India to England and vice versa.

JRD Tata the first indian to have a pilot license - Mythical India
JRD Tata the first Indian to have a pilot’s license

Determined to establish an Indian commercial carrier, JRD Tata registered Tata Airlines in 1932 for the transportation of passengers and cargo. This was the entry of Tata group into the aviation sector though it turned out to be short-lived. In 1946, Tata Airlines went public and was christened as Air India.

JRD Tata poses with one of the planes of Tata Airlines - Mythical India

Seven years later, the Nehruvian socialism forced nationalization of several sectors like Banking, Aviation etc. The government acquired a majority stake in the carrier leaving JRD Tata deeply distressed. With this started the long struggle of Tata group to establish its own aviation company. The timeline below mentions the developments that happened over the years:

1. Nationalization of Air India left JRD Tata deeply hurt

JRD’s dream of owning a national carrier was crushed by the sudden unexplained step taken by the Nehru government. He expressed his disappointment through mail communications. To pacify this visionary, the government appointed him the chairman of Air India international which was licensed to operate on foreign routes.

JRD Tata as the chairman of Air India - Mythical India
JRD Tata as the chairman of Air India

2. Continued as a mentor to the Airlines

Being at the helm of Air India international still gave JRD a satisfaction. But, in 1977, Morarji Desai’s government unceremoniously terminated him from that position. Though, he was again offered the position once Indira Gandhi won the elections in 1980 but he declined the offer and continued working as a mentor.

JRD Tata mentored air india through his letters - Mythical India

3. Coming together of Tata group and Singapore Airlines

After being chairman for Five decades, JRD Tata stepped down and Ratan Tata took over as group’s chairman. In the pursuit to fulfill his successor’s dream, he approached Singapore Airlines for a joint venture in 1996. But, the government once again played spoilsport and shot down the proposal sighting concerns over foreign investment.

Ratan Tataand his passion of flying. F18 - Mythical India

4. Tata Group’s bid to acquire stake in Air India

In yet another combined effort of Tata group and Singapore Airlines, a bid to acquire stake in the ailing National carrier, Air India was made in 2000. But, the plan didn’t materialize as Singapore airlines backed out at the last moment.

5. FDI easing and newer avenues

Nearly 10 years later, the aviation sector was witnessing its worst. Almost all carriers, private or government, saw their balance sheets in red. There was a huge cash crunch which pressurized the government to raise the cap of foreign ownership allowed in the sector. The FDI in aviation was raised from 26% to 49% in 2012.

Ratan Tata with Tony Fernandes at Air Asia - Mythical India

Realizing the opportunity, Tata made its first investment into aviation since Air India. They bought 30% stake in a joint venture with Air Asia to fly a low cost budget carrier in India.

Air Asia paying tribute to JRD Tata - Mythical India
An Air Asia aircraft paying tribute to JRD Tata

6. The dream came true with “Vistara”

This was not all, 7 months later they announced their plans of starting a Full service airline “Vistara” in partnership with Singapore airlines. This luxury airline service, a joint venture between the two companies, made its maiden flight between Delhi and Mumbai.

Vistara Airlines -A joint venture between Tata Group and Singapore airlines - Mythical India

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