Celebrating 60th anniversary of Air India’s first flight to USA

air india post card

By SATimes Team 

Precisely 60 years ago, India’s national carrier Air India’s inaugural flight to the United States originating from Bombay landed at the Idlewild Airport, now known as the JFK International Airport, in New York on May 14,1960. It is a matter of pride and celebration for India, all Indians and Indian Americans.

Nancy Kuo, Air India’s first employee in New York, remembers that historic day vividly. Now 85-year-old resident of Queens, the Chinese American told The South Asia Times that she has fond memories of  her days and colleagues (see box) at the airline which grew in operations and eminence.

Andy Bhatia, a veteran of Air India sales department in North America, was a close link between the fast-growing Indian American community and the airline.  He served the airline for 34 years in the US and remained its face at numerous community events. For one, Air India will forever be etched in the minds of the community as the main sponsor for many years of fireworks at AIA’s Deepavali mela held every October at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan.

Air India was not only a carrier to the small Indian community in the US, recalls Anil Bansal, President, Federation of Indian Associations (FIA-NY/NJ/CT). It was a link and a lifeline between India and the early settlers who had come to the US pursuing greener pastures.  He gratefully acknowledges, “Those of us who came here as students in the 1960s and 1970s remember how Air India brought news and entertainment from back home by making available a selection of new Indian movies to be shown every weekend on university campuses and a special edition of the Hindustan Times.”

“Best of all, Air India helped many Indian organizations in showcasing India’s rich history and culture in the United States,” says Mr. Bansal, who is leading FIA in its golden jubilee year.  FIA is known for organizing the annual India Day Parade in New York, the largest such celebration of India’s Independence outside India.  

Mr Bansal spoke to The South Asian Times congratulating on Air India’s first flight to New York (see box).

As for Air India’s variegated history, business tycoon and aviation enthusiast J.R.D. Tata founded Tata Airlines in 1932 as a division of Tata Sons Ltd. Headquartered in Bombay, their first scheduled air service was inaugurated in 1932, flying  mail and passengers between Karachi, Ahmedabad, Bombay, Bellary, and Madras (now Chennai). After World War II, in 1946, Tata Airlines was converted into a public company and renamed Air-India Limited. Two years later, to inaugurate international services between Bombay and CairoGeneva, and London, Air-India International Limited was formed.

In 1953, India nationalized all Indian airlines, creating two corporations—one for domestic service, called Indian Airlines Corporation, and one for international service, Air-India International Corporation. In the following decades as India’s flag carrier, the airline extended its international routes to all continents except South America and Australia.

As for landmarks in Air India’s journey, on June 9th, 1948, the airline introduced a regular service from Bombay to London.  In 1993, its first Boeing 747-400, named Konark, did the first non-stop flight between New York City and Delhi. In 1996, Air India started using its second US gateway at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Services to Air India’s third US gateway at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark were introduced in the year 2000. In October 2016, Air India changed the Delhi-San Francisco route previously operated over the Atlantic Ocean to flying over the Pacific Ocean, in order to take advantage of jet stream winds and use less fuel. With the total flown distance being over 15,200 km (9,400 miles), Air India operated the world’s longest non-stop regular scheduled commercial flight.

Air India has been an innovator of sorts, flying chef-on-board as early as 1987 when the four best restaurant chefs of the world flew on board AI flights serving delectable food on order to First and Business Class passengers.

Air India has many firsts in its glorious 60 years history of flying to the US. It marked the International Women’s Day in 2019 by flying all-women-crews to various cities – Washington DC, Newark, Chicago & San Francisco. The national carrier flew four flights to the US with women pilots as its commanders. Tweeted n ecstatic Consul General of India in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty, “Literally with high flying women. All 4 Air India flights into US today, JFK, Newark, Chicago & SFo were commandered by women pilots. We were delighted to honor 8 women pilots at the Consulate on #Internationalwomensday. Big thanks to Vandana Sharma of @airindiain& FIA.”

AIR INDIA has been in the forefront when calamities struck Indians living abroad. The services rendered by the airline has continued to this day. “Right now, during this COVID pandemic, we salute AIR INIDIA for the bravery and the service they are providing to evacuate stranded Indians from America and other countries. FIA and the Indian community will remain grateful,” Mr. Bansal acknowledges.

FIA congratulates Air India


Anil Bansal is President, FIA, Founder & Executive Chairman, Indus American Bank, President of the First National Realty Management, Lyndhurst, NJ

Message from Anil Bansal

We congratulate Air India for serving the Indian community in the US for the past 60 years since their first flight arrived in New York on May 14, 1960.

Right now, in this pandemic, we salute Air India for the bravery and the service they are providing to evacuate stranded Indians from America and other countries. FIA and the Indian community will remain grateful.

FIA (NY-NJ-CT) has been partners with Air India for 50 years, virtually from Day 1 that FIA was founded. They have always supported us, it has been a great association, we value them as partners.

We wish Air India a bright future and hope things will improve, and they will continue as an independent airline.    


Air India’s 1st hire in New York goes down the memory lane


Nancy Kuo with Peter Mahta, Air India’s first country head who hired her in 1959.

By Nancy Kuo

In June 1959, while on summer break during my graduate studies at Columbia University in New York, I applied for my first job in the United States. I was interviewed by Peter Mahta, the U.S. Regional Director at Air India, for a position as a reservation agent. I had worked as a reservation and ticketing agent for Civil Air Transport a year earlier in Taiwan. Mr. Mahta hired me on the spot. I was the first local Reservation agent hired by Air India in the U.S.

There were eight employees, including Ashok Dutt, sales manager; Bill Shaw, cargo manager; Don Gazdar, reservations manager; and me. We worked in four small rooms within the offices of Tata Inc., at 425 Park Avenue. Reservations, ticketing and teletype were in a one room with three desks.

As we were preparing for the first transatlantic flight on May 14, 1960, we needed more staff and larger offices and moved to the 11th floor at 410 Park Avenue. Dilip Dulai was hired for accounting and stayed with Air India until his retirement. Airport traffic was handled by British Airways and there weren’t any Air India staff at JFK Airport.

I remained with Air India — through numerous personnel changes, different positions and office locations in New York City — until my early retirement almost 40 years later. Now, in 2020, it has been 60 years since the inaugural flight. It is a bittersweet milestone as most of my colleagues from that time have passed on.


Image courtesy of thesatimes |

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