Air India: whither the glory; where is the dream?

Once the 'maharaja' of civil aviation, Air India is now so troubled that it is in danger of crash-landing. Flight navigator C N Badhe who planned the route and navigated the first commercial flight of the the airline, recalls its lost glory

Financially deep in the red, national carrier Air India seems to be going from bad to worse, with pilots and other staff going on strike at the drop of a hat, and delayed and cancelled flights becoming commonplace.

Things were different once. In late 1940s, when Air India launched international flights, they were manned by an all-Indian crew; the aircraft had an Indian registration number painted on the fin of the aircraft with the Indian flag. It was a picturesque sight, which older citizens will not have forgotten.

Today one sees the aircraft in shoddy condition – fliers are faced with broken-down seats and cockroaches in the aisle, if not in their food. The exteriors of the planes look equally drab after the airline did away with the iconic 'maharaja' symbol as well as its successor, the centaur.

Things were different 50 or 60 years ago. At that time working in Air India in any capacity was considered a prestigious job and we were surrounded by an aura of esteem.

All of us who were then working for Air India put all our efforts to make it one of the best airlines in the world and fulfil the dream of its founder, J R D Tata.

Air India was the first airline from the Orient to fly to the Western countries, before airlines like Australia's Quantas, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and many others started to fly to the West. Air India's in-flight service was excellent and was well known as 'maharaja' service all over the world.