The journey of Air India has come a full circle as the Tatas return to its cockpit after 69 years. Originally established by JRD Tata in 1932, as Tata Airlines, it grew to be the flagship international airline of India. 

Now that the Tata group has acquired 100 percent stake in Air India from the Government of India, the Maharaja will be returning home, back to its glory. 

Meanwhile, let’s look back at the little-known history of the airline.    

1. The initial logo of Air India looked quite different than the one we see now. JRD Tata designed the first logo, which was a centaur, keeping in mind the concept of “Sagittarius” zodiac sign.  

2. The iconic Maharaja, the mascot for India’s first commercial airline service, was created when Bobby Kooka joined the company to symbolise graciousness.  

3. The brainchild of industrialist JRD Tata, who was also India’s first licensed pilot, the airline was called Tata Airlines in 1932. 

After World War II in 1946, when regular commercial services resumed normally in the country, the airline was converted into a public company and named Air India

4. Two years later, in 1948 Air India operated its very first international flight from Mumbai to London Heathrow.  

Air India became the first-ever Asian airline to run a westbound air service. 

5. After launching its first Boeing 707-42 in 1960, Air India was tagged as the first Asian airline to introduce a jet aircraft in its fleet. Two years later, it became the world’s first all jet airline. 

6. Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist artist, once designed a porcelain ashtray for the airline which was gifted to some of the first-class passengers.

In 1967, the then public relations officer of Air India, Jot Singh, happened to meet Dali in New York City and asked the artist to create something for the airline. And you know what Dali asked for in exchange? An elephant!  

7. Once known for luxurious air travel, Air India introduced an iconic plane which redefined in-flight luxury and was termed as ‘Palace in the Sky’.  

The plane named Emperor Ashoka, a Maharaja-themed aircraft, joined the fleet in 1971.  

8. During the Gulf war, Air India jets carried out the biggest evacuation operation in history. 


More than one lakh Indians, stranded in Iraq and Kuwait, were rescued and brought back home in 1990. The move was registered in the Guinness Book of World Record. The film Airlift, which released in 2016, was also based on this evacuation. 


9. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was employed by Air India as pilot on domestic routes. 

Before the accidental death of his brother Sanjay Gandhi, which led him to join politics, Rajiv Gandhi was a commercial pilot. Rather than obtaining a degree in engineering, he joined the Flying Club in Delhi and trained as a pilot. 

10. When ticket bookings increasingly started to go digital, Air-India removed the hyphen from its name in 2005. 

It was an attempt to gain a competitive advantage in computerised reservation searches.   

So, how much did you know about the “Maharaja of the Skies”?