Today is the 115th birth anniversary of Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, also known as JRD Tata, unanimously considered to be the Father of Indian Aviation. JRD Tata founded Air India, way back in 1932 (as Tata Airlines), which is now our national carrier. The airline had humble beginnings when JRD flew a Havilland Puss Moth from Karachi to Mumbai, bearing air mail. Over the following decades, he set up what would become India’s first international airline, taking it to new heights and, in many ways, shaping policies for times to come.
Indian aviation has a lot to thank JRD Tata for. Three major airlines in the Indian skies today, are directly or indirectly related to the Tatas — Air India, Air Asia and Vistara. On JRD Tata’s 115th birth anniversary, we look at five interesting facts about his life.
- JRD’s influence on Indian aviation: No doubt, he would be very proud about how the Indian aviation market has shaped up today, into one of the most dynamic and competitive on the planet. He might not have been as happy with the current state-of-affairs of his brainchild, Air India, however, as a whole, the industry still owes a lot to him. In fact, Air Asia India, a Tata Sons JV, even has a special aircraft livery, with JRD Tata’s face on the fuselage, as a tribute to the man. A lot of aviation policies, used even today, were designed and put into place by JRD.
- The glorious days of Air India: Under his guidance, Air India became the world’s first all-jet airline, after the arrival of the Boeing 707 aircraft, and the phasing out of older aircraft. Air India was also ahead of its time, in the ‘70s, when it took delivery of its first Boeing 747, Emperor Ashoka, marking a new era in Indian aviation. In fact, under his leadership, Air India became synonymous with dynamic marketing campaigns (the iconic Maharajah branding exercise), luxurious offerings and a steady push of Indian luxury to international travellers. In fact, Air India was an industry leader in terms of luxury.
- India’s first pilot’s license: India’s first ever commercial pilot’s license was issued to JRD Tata and was numbered “1”. To this day, Indian pilots are issued licenses as a sequence following that license No. 1.
- His final resting place: While most tourists to Paris will flock to the iconic Père Lachaise cemetery to see the gravestones of legendary names like Jim Morisson, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf, few people know that it is in this very cemetery that JRD Tata’s grave can be found amidst the graves of many other Tata family members.
- Beyond aviation: JRD Tata may be the father of Indian aviation, but that’s not all he is. Over the course of his life, he has donned many hats including being the founder of Tata Motors and Tata Consultancy Services. He has consistently worked to provide excellent working conditions for Tata employees, a culture that prevails even today. He has even received a number of awards including the Padma Vibhushan and the French Legion of Honour. He also received India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.