DALLAS – Seventy-five years ago today, an Air India (AI) Lockheed Constellation L-749A (VT-CQP) named ‘Malabar Princess’ touched down at London Airport after operating its first international flight from Mumbai. The flight, under the command of Captain KR Gujdar, had departed a little after 11:00 pm local time two days earlier on June 8, 1948, and routed via Cairo and Geneva.
Air India can trace its history back to 1932 when it was established as Tata Air Services by legendary industrialist, philanthropist and India’s first licensed pilot, JRD Tata of Tata Sons. In July 1946, the airline was renamed Air India before adding “International” to the title prior to this historic flight.
Tata published a full-page advertisement for the maiden voyage in the Time of India on June 3, 1948. It included the airline’s mascot, the Maharaja, bowing to welcome passengers and read: “Fly with me to London via Cairo and Geneva every Tuesday in a beautiful constellation for Rs. 1,720.”
Just 35 passengers were onboard. However, the manifest was a veritable who’s who of Indian high society, including Maharaja Duleep Singh, who was on his way to London to watch the England-Australia test match. Two Indian cyclists, HB Malcolm and RR Noble, were also on the flight, making their way to represent India at the London Olympic Games.
Mr Tata was also on board along with his wife. He carried several goodwill greeting messages from Jawaharlal Nehru to the prime ministers of Britain and Egypt and the president of the Swiss Republic. He also had similar letters from India’s communications minister Rafi Ahmed Kidwai to give to his counterparts in Egypt, Switzerland and the UK.
When ‘Malabar Princess’ departed Mumbai on June 8, a large crowd gathered at the airport to wave off the flight and witness the historic moment. Members of the press were also on hand to capture the moment.
Likewise, when the flight touched down at London Airport, well-wishers, including VK Krishna Menon, India’s High Commissioner in the UK, and Sir Fredrick James, then Managing Director, Tata Ltd, London, were on hand to greet the incoming passengers.
A commemorative stamp was also issued to mark the momentous occasion. On it, the words read, “First Flight June 8 1948” and “Air India International.”
Today, the journey between India and the UK is much less than the 48 hours it took back in 1948. From London Heathrow (LHR), AI flies to both Mumbai (BOM) and Delhi (DEL). It also serves Ahmedabad (AMD), Amritsar (ATQ), Goa (GOI) and Kochi (COK) from London Gatwick (LGW) and ATQ and DEL from Birmingham (BHX). These services are operated using the carriers Boeing 787-8 and 777-300ER aircraft.
Featured Image: Air India Lockheed Constellation L-749A (VT-CQP) named ‘Malabar Princess.’ Photo:
Swissair, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.