1. The very successful and brilliant industrialist
  2. 1st licenced pilot of India
  3. Awarded by French Legion of Honour
  4. Also awarded by the prestigious Bharat Ratna

Sir Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy (JRD) TATA

Born in Paris in the year 1904, to a French mother and Indian father, benefit of which was that he could imbibe both the cultures at the same time. In the long run he also received both the French Legion of Honor and India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.

His business life was equally diverse. He became the Chairman of, India’s biggest industrial group, in 1938 the “Tata & Sons“. The group was founded by his father’s cousin but under JRD’s leadership it went from a $100 million business controlling 14 companies to a $5 billion business with its roots digging deep into about 100 companies.

Despite being shouldered with a lot of responsibility, JRD’s overriding passion was aviation. His hero was the French piloting ace Louis Blériot, the first man to cross the English Channel by air. Blériot at young age once allowed a co-pilot to give the 15-year-old JRD a ride. From that moment on, JRD was determined to fly. Having moved to India, in 1929 he achieved his goal. He became the first person in the country to be issued with a pilot’s license.

A year later, he competed for the Aga Khan Trophy, which was being offered to the first Indian to fly solo from India to England or vice versa. JRD was flying from Karachi to London and landed en route at Aboukir Bay in Egypt. There he discovered another competitor, flying in the opposite direction, stranded by the lack of a spark plug. JRD willingly gave him his spare one and was ultimately defeated by a couple of hours.

The Indian Aviation

All these experience only strengthened his love of flying, however, in 1932, JRD set up Tata Airlines, the first Indian commercial carrier to transport mail and passengers within India. The company was based at Juhu Airstrip in Bombay (Mumbai). In its first year, Tata Airlines flew 160,000 miles, carrying 155 passengers and more than 10 tones of mail.

The first flight in the history of Indian aviation lifted off from Drigh Road in Karachi with JRD as the pilot of a Puss Moth. JRD nourished and nurtured his airline until 1953, when the government of Jawaharlal Nehru nationalized Air India taking 49% of its take, also giving itself the option to acquire an additional 2%. It was a decision JRD had fought against with all his heart.

Nehru and JRD shared an unusual relationship. They had been friends for long and there was plenty of mutual respect, but on the economic policies of India they had different aspects.

After discussion and following JRD’s recommendation, the government established Indian Airlines to run domestic services while JRD took the resposibility of Air India International. The same bussiness carried till 1977 after which another act of government forced JRD TATA out of the bussiness. After few years when he was again asked to rejoin the company by Indira Gandhi, but by then he no longer had the appetite for the responsibility.

Awards and Achievements

His love for aviation never diminished and his contribution to the industry is reflected in numerous awards and achievements:

  1. He won the Tony Jannus Award (The Tony Jannus Award recognizes outstanding individual achievement in scheduled commercial aviation by airline executives, inventors and manufacturers, and government leaders.)
  2. In 1986 he received the Edward Warner Award given by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
  3. He was also the Chairman of IATA from 1957–1958 an indication of his visionary capability with regard to the fledgling industry
  4. Named Honorary Group Captain of the Indian Ar Force in 1948
  5. Honorary Air Commodore of India in 1966
  6. Received French Legion of Honour
  7. Received the prestigious Bharat Ratna

Conclusion

Air India was never just a job for JRD, it was rather a labour of love. Tata executives would always be complaining — in private, undoubtedly — that their Chairman spent more time worrying about the airliner than he did running the entire Tata group. JRD’s ardour and commitment towards Air India was what made it, at least while he was at the helm, a world-class carrier.

As Sir JRD put it: “No success in material terms is worthwhile, unless it serves the needs or interests of the country and its people.

In 1982 he recreated or one may say relived his legendary first journey in an effort to instil future generations with entrepreneurial spirit and love of aviation. For JRD, the flying experience was “the greatest adventure” of his life.

JRD Tata will always be in the hearts of every Indian because of his extraordinary capability of running business with the objective of serving the society.

Salute to Sir JRD Tata

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