JRD Tata: The Aviation Pioneer Who Gave India Its First Airline

Meet aviation pioneer JRD Tata who gave India its first airline in 1932.

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(This story was first published on 29 November 2019. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives, after TATA Sons wins bid for Air India.)

We all know Air India, but do we know the man who conceived of the idea behind aviation? Or the fact that Air India was initially known as ‘Tata Airlines’?

This is the story of aviation pioneer JRD Tata, who gave India its first airline – 'Tata Airlines' in 1932 with an investment of Rs 2,00,000.

From France to India

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata was born in Paris in 1904 to Indian industrialist Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and a French mother, Suzanne ‘Sooni’ Briere.

It’s said JRD spoke better French than English. After studying in France, Japan and England, JRD served in the French Army for a year.

Later, his father called him to India and JRD joined the Tata Group, India’s largest privately owned steelmaker, founded by his uncle Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata in 1868.

Following his father’s death in 1926, JRD renounced his French citizenship in 1929 and decided to stay in India.


Aviation Pioneer

JRD was the nation’s first commercial pilot in 1932. And, at just 34, he took charge as the chairman of Tata Group, in 1938.

Tata Airlines went public and was renamed Air India Limited post World War II, in 1946.

Soon after, the government passed the Air Corporations Act in 1953 and nationalised Air India. Two corporations – 'Indian Airlines' and 'Air India International' were established. However, JRD Tata continued as chairman till 1977.

JRD oversaw Air India’s operational aspects with much passion – so much so that he didn’t hesitate before joining the crew to clean an aircraft’s bathroom.

A True Indian

JRD’s love for India shone through, despite his cosmopolitan upbringing.

  • Concerned about India’s war with China, JRD offered military trucks and contributed Rs 30 lakh to the Prime Minister's National Defence Fund to make it possible for government employees to enlist in the Armed Forces without forsaking pay and increments.
  • JRD could see the problem of India's growing population and for 40 years, he made population control initiatives through the ‘Family Planning Association of India’ that he had founded. In 1992, JRD received the UN Population Award for his efforts.
  • JRD also gave India the first corporate HR department. He wanted his workers' suggestions in the running of the company.
  • In the 1944 Bombay Plan, JRD played a significant role in the formulation of a long-term plan for India's economic development after World War II.

He was honoured with a host of awards like Padma Vibhushan (1957), Daniel Guggenheim Medal for Aviation (1988) and the Bharat Ratna (1992).

In 1991, JRD stepped down from Tata Sons at the age of 87.

The legendary entrepreneur passed away on 29 November 1993.

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Topics:  Air India   JRD Tata   Tata Group 

Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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