Weather’s good for flying!
In May 1930, Air Marshal AM Engineer – aka Aspy – took off in a DeHavilland Moth plane from England to Karachi (then in India). At the same time, JRD Tata started from Karachi to England in a Gypsy Moth. It was a race for the Aga Khan Prize of £500 for flying between the two countries in either direction. Almost halfway through, they actually met each other at a place in Egypt called Aboukir (same place where Napoleon won his last battle).
As fate would have it, Aspy’s plane faced some spark plug problems in Aboukir. Although JRD Tata could have taken off – he had every right to do it – he decided to wait and help Aspy solve the problem. Finally, both of them took off towards their respective destinations. Aspy landed in India while JRD was just reaching Paris. Aspy won the Aga Khan prize. But JRD was anything but a loser. The flight inspired him to start an airmail service under the name of Tata Aviation. He was, of course, the pilot for the first carriage of mail from Karachi to Mumbai (then Bombay) on October 15, 1932. (Later, Tata Aviation became Air India.)
The place where JRD Tata landed his first airmail flight from Karachi was actually the Juhu aerodrome, near the Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai’s suburbs. Incidentally, this was also India’s first civil aviation airport to open in 1928. (The first civil flight from this airport was also piloted by JRD Tata.) The Juhu aerodrome incidentally was Mumbai’s only airport for nearly two decades till the Santacruz airport became operational in June 1948. Of course, it was extended to the Sahar airport in 1981, and today serious plans are underway to construct Mumbai’s second international airport at New Mumbai.
The fact that Mumbai requires another international airport reflects the flying speed with which the Indian aviation industry has been growing in the last few years – post the government’s open sky policy. The Indian civil aviation market reportedly grew at a compound annual growth rate of 18%. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) foresees a stupendous growth in air traffic with 25-30% for domestic passengers and 15% for international passengers. It is estimated that by 2020, 40 crore Indian passengers would be flying. Similarly, air cargo is also likely to cross the 3 million tonnes per annum mark. Well, the weather’s good for flying!
All this needs to be seen from the perspective of India’s economic progress and growing international competitiveness. Fifteen years back, nobody would have thought about having airports in towns like Sindhudurg and Chakan in Maharashtra or Cheitu in Nagarland and Paladi in Rajasthan. But today, it is very realistic. The logic is simple – more people and things are flying because there is more money involved. To ensure that these people and things keep flying – and also enjoy flying – we need better and bigger airports. And we need more of them. Translation – opportunities galore. Go grab them – but first remember to enhance your capabilities and competitiveness.