Indian business conglomerate Tata Sons on Thursday got reunited with Air India after 69 years, marking the beginning of a new era for the beleaguered airline.

“Welcome Back, Air India,” wrote Ratan Tata in a statement. The Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons went on to say that it would take “considerable effort to rebuild Air India” but noted that the acquisition marked a “very strong market opportunity to the Tata Group’s presence in the aviation industry.”

“On an emotional note, Air India, under the leadership of Mr JRD Tata, had, at one time, gained the reputation of being one of the most prestigious airlines in the world. Tatas will have the opportunity of regaining the image and reputation it enjoyed in earlier years,” added Ratan Tata.

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Indeed, Air India was born as a Tata venture under the leadership of JRD Tata.

The birth of Air India:

JRD Tata was inspired by the idea of human flight from childhood and took inspiration from Louie Bleriot, the first person to undertake an international flight in 1907, and Charles Lindbergh, who had flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, among others.

In 1929, JRD Tata joined the Flying Club in Mumbai (then Bombay) to take flying lessons. Three years on, he founded Tata Aviation Service with an investment of Rs 2 lakhs, and went on to pilot the first flight of Air India, then known as Tata Air Mail.

Tata Air Mail initially carried out cargo flights, but the business prospered quickly, and the company registered a profit of Rs 6 lakh in 1937, up 10-fold from the Rs 60,000 profit posted in 1933.

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JRD Tata renamed Tata Air Mail to Tata Airlines in 1938. However, he was forced to cease operations following the outbreak of World War II, during which the British commandeered all the aircraft in the Tata fleet.

Beyond borders:

The airline regained control of its aircraft after the end of the war and JRD Tata renamed the airline to Air India in 1946 and went public as a joint-stock company.

In 1947, after Independence, the Tatas submitted a proposal to the government of India to help take Air India international. The government was to have a 49% stake, the Tatas 25%, while the rest would belong to the public.

The Nehru administration quickly approved the proposal, following which Air India launched its first international flight between Mumbai and London. This flight also made use of the iconic Maharaja mascot of Air India for the first time.

Nationalisation of Air India:

However, the partnership between Air India and the government soon gave way to the nationalisation of the airline. In 1953, the Indian government purchased Air India from the Tatas for Rs 2.8 crore, while it paid another Rs 3 crore to buy out other domestic airlines to make the nationalisation of civil aviation complete.

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The years in between:

Despite the nationalisation of Air India, JRD Tata remained the chairman of the airline for more than two decades, till he was removed from the position in 1978 after Air India’s first Boeing 747 crashed off the coast of Mumbai, killing 213 passengers.

However, JRD Tata was reinstated into the board of Air India by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1980, where JRD Tata remained till 1986, when he was replaced by Ratan Tata.

The return of the Tatas to aviation:

Following the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991, the Tatas formed a joint venture with Singapore Airlines, but the project never quite took off. However, in 2012, the duo combined to formed Vistara, which now operates in the premium segment of domestic aviation in India.

The Tatas were among the four players who bid for Air India after the government announced its plans to disinvest the airlines. The group won with its Rs 18,000 crore bid, completing its reunion with Air India.