On an overcast June morning at London’s Heathrow airport, a water-cannon salute welcomed the first international flight of Air India’s newly acquired Dreamliner, B787. The landing on June 9 marked 65 years of Indian civil aviation industry’s ties with the British capital. In 1948, the first Indian flight to London had on board J.R.D. Tata, the chairman of the Tata group, and his wife. And it was received by V.K. Krishna Menon, the Indian high commissioner to the UK.
It was J.R.D. Tata who started commercial flights in India by setting up Tata Airlines in 1932. Post-Independence, the Union government acquired 48 per cent of the company’s shares, while the Tatas held 25 per cent. In 1948, the company bought a Lockheed Constellation aircraft, which was christened Malabar Princess, and started flights to London. Impressed by its growth, the government decided to nationalise the civil aviation sector and on August 25, 1953, it passed the Air Corporations Act, signalling the birth of Air India International Ltd, one of the first Indian multinational companies.
But six decades later, when Air India’s first Dreamliner touched down in Heathrow, Air India as well as its newest acquisition was grappling with serious challenges. While Air India is going through one of the worst financial crises in its history, Dreamliner, owned by Boeing, is struggling with technical problems. In January this year, the Dreamliners were grounded after the US Federal Aviation Administration suspected problems with their lithium-ion batteries.
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