Part 2 – Indian Airlines

The government of India nationalised domestic airlines in 1953 to set up two state-owned carriers. This was in keeping with global trends, the British government having established two state-owned airlines to serve its transport needs, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) for international flights and British European Airways, (BEA) for regional flights.

Seven privately owned airlines and the domestic wing of Air India formed the Indian Airlines Corporation administered by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which began life with 99 aircraft, including 74 Douglas DC-3s, 3 Douglas DC-4s and 12 Vickers Vikings, serving domestic and regional destinations. The main international routes were given to Air India International, which became Air India in 1962.

The domestic and regional airline, Indian Airlines (IATA code IC) was burdened from the start with the employees of all the seven companies that were merged to form it. Unable to shed staff, the airline initially suffered from a high cost base from its inception. Additionally17 accidents in the first three of operation, did little to improve its reputation. Gradualreduction of staff numbers and rationalization of equipment, plus a monopoly of domestic traffic however, meant Indian Airlines was a profitable entity by the late 1950s.

Jet operations

The Aerospatiale Caravelle was added to Inidian Airlines’ fleet in 1964, bringing jet operations to the region for the first time. The acquisition of the Boeing B-737-200s in 1971 was a turning piint for IC but was controversial too.  McDonnell Douglas’s DC-9 and British Aerospace Corporation’s BAC-111, lost a competitive tender to Boeing. As is usual in this part of the world there were many allegations of bribery that could not be proven. The type proved to be a good one for IC, being robust and simple enough to operate out of small regional airports for many years. At its peak Indian Airlines operated over 40 B-737s, though a few accidents marred an otherwise good record.

The last DC-3s were finally retired in 1974 – there were 30 of them still in use, proving once again how resilient that legendary aircraft was.

Airbus enters the fray

Needing a larger aircraft for the main “trunk” routes, between Bombay (now Mumbai), Delhi, Calcutta and Madras (now Chennai) IC introduced the Airbus Industrie A-300-B2 in1976, bringing a wide-body jet to domestic routes for the first time.

The replacement for the B-737 proved to be another controversial deal, with the favoured Boeing B-757 losing out to the new Airbus A-320, which was a new type with the yet unproven V-2500 engines. To add to the controversy, the Indian Airlines A-320s were to have four-wheels on each main landing gear, a costly modification that has never been ordered by another customer. (see the feature image)

Supposedly the concept was at the insistence of Premier Rajiv Ghandi, who himself was an IC B-737 Captain before entering politics.

The A320 entered service in 1989and one of the first aircraft was involved in a fatal accident in Bangalore in 1990, adding to the scandal that surrounded the type.

The aircraft went on to be the mainstay of Indian Airlines, with almost 50 of this type operated by the airline. Despite a spotty safety record, losing over a dozen jet aircraft and a number of turbo-prop types over its history to accidents, IC proved to be resilient and provided its owner, the Government of India, with a reasonable financial performance and vital transport links that the country badly needed.

Recently though, with more and more private airlines to compete with, it found itself unable to sustain this performance as the sector was liberalized.Indian Airlines was merged with Air India and ceased operation under its own brand in 2011.

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