List: Airlines in India and Their Fall

I originally wanted to write about airline livery, a mildly interesting topic that you can read up on Wikipedia now. But then Jet Airways, one of my favorite airlines in India, announced its premature death and I couldn’t control exploring the history of other airlines in India that have gone under for various specific reasons. Then Santosh Desai shared his opinions on the Jet Airways crisis last week in a TOI column, where I read mentions of defunct airlines like Damania and Archana for the first time, and I think this was called for.

Here’s a list of almost all inactive airlines in India, checked and verified a day before publishing. Most of these have been forgotten, with some names not even in my parents’ memory (the elder one was born in the 1950s) – all of which makes this a sadistically interesting exercise for me. There are a lot of reasons here why airlines went bust, mostly voluntarily to avoid further disaster, but one common factor is shortage of money due to a common reason of high fuel prices. Reminds me of a time when Germany’s Lufthansa said it is difficult to run an airline in India because of the “high cost of operations”. Jet will agree. And so will some of these four dozen and more now defunct airlines in India. But there’s a hidden reason why some of these companies embraced death. See if you can find that out.

List of Airlines in India and Why They Shut Down

This list of airline graveyard is in alphabetical order. To state the obvious, most airlines permanently stopped their services because of eventual license (Air Operator Permit aka AOP or Air Operator’s Certificate or AOC) suspension or cancellation by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) or suspension by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which is why I haven’t added that as a reason. I have focused on what led to the licence revocation.

Cargo and charter carriers are not included. Those that have been merged or acquired are also not added unless the merged or acquiring entity has ceased operations, except in some notable cases like Tata Airlines and Air Sahara. Suffixes and prefixes like “airlines” and “airways” are mostly not included to allow brevity, unless absolutely needed. You may have to scroll up and down because some of these airline names have direct connections.

  • Air Asiatic – Legal hassles involving chairman and managing director K C G Verghese who went on to write an autobiography[1]Thomas George And Ors. vs K.C.G. Verghese And Ors. on 7 June, 1994 – Indian Kanoon[2]Air Asiatic was the first airline to get a private air taxi operator license in India, circa 1989 (Review of “Wheels and Wings: An Autobiography by K.C.G. Verghese” – Anil Aggrawal, 2007)
  • Air Carnival – Unsafe and unreliable service, cash crunch
  • Air Costa – Cash crunch
  • Air Deccan – Acquired by industrialist Vijay Mallya and renamed as Simplifly Deccan, eventually converted to Kingfisher Red (see Kingfisher below)
  • Air Dravida – Cash crunch; shut down the same year it hoped to commence its operations after failing to create a fleet using aircraft from Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier
  • Air Mantra – Low seat occupancy
  • Air Pegasus – Cash crunch
  • Air Sahara – Renamed from Sahara Airlines in 2001 and then acquired by Jet and again rebranded as JetLite in 2007 which converted it from a “full-fare airline” brand to a “discount airline”[3]Sahara Airlines history – Jennifer Mangally, USA Today before merging it with JetKonnect in 2012 (see Kingfisher below)
  • Air Services of India – Merged into Indian Airlines
  • Airways (India) Limited – Income tax issues; merged into Indian Airlines
Airways India Limited 1950
The front cover of a timetable book (circa 1950) for Airways (India) Limited, probably the least known airline in India / © David Zekria[4]http://www.timetableimages.com/ttimages/ail1ai.htm
  • Ambica – Low seat occupancy; legal hassles
  • Archana – Heavy financial losses due to low seat occupancy and high cost of operations (with aircraft being returned to the manufacturers against pending dues)[5]https://gyaniz.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/defunct-airlines-of-india/24 April 2011
  • Bharatair (aka Bharat Airways) – Merged into Indian Airlines
  • CityLink – Cash crunch; eventually liquidated
  • Cornecon – Unknown
  • Cosmos – Unknown
  • Damania – The Aviation Ministry’s 1995 mandate that private airlines must fly to secondary routes to be eligible for major, profitable ones; acquired by Natural Energy Processing Company (NEPC) and converted into Skyline NEPC (see NEPC below)[6]According to brand strategist Harish Bijoor, Damania was the first to utilize the ministry’s permission to serve alcohol on board its flights, a welcome move allegedly jinxed by the arrival of low-cost carriers (LCC) like Kingfisher, IndiGo, and SpiceJet in the mid-2000s. (The Hindu Business Line, 23 February 2011)
  • Darbhanga – Gradual fall of the Darbhanga dynasty of Bihar further triggered by the death of its Maharaja Kameshwar Singh in 1962; DGCA cancelled its licence and one of its fleet (a VIP liner, possibly a Douglas) was taken by the Indian Air Force (IAF)[7]In December 2018, Union Minister for Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu tweeted about the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Darbhanga Airport.
  • Deccan – Operation Polo which resulted in the annexation of the Hyderabad state from the Nizam in 1948, which, in turn, led to its changing hands from the Hyderabad government and Nizam State Railways to the Government of India; one of the eight pre-Independent domestic airlines to be merged and converted into Indian Airlines under the Air Corporations Act (see below)[8]In 1953, eight pre-Independent private airlines – Deccan, Airways (India) Limited, Bharat, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga, Indian National Airways, Tata, and Air Services of India – were nationalized and merged and converted into Indian Airlines Corporation (IAC), which later became Air India after its domestic and international fleet joined hands until the early 1990s when the national monopoly of the skies changed[9]Deccan was the first airline of south India, bankrolled by the Nizam of Hyderabad, taking cues from the Tatas.(The plane that made India fly – Muthiah, The Hindu, 20 November 2006)
  • East-West – Murder of managing director Thakiyudeen Wahid which added fuel to its financial problems[10]East-West was known for its alleged ties with underworld mobster Dawood Ibrahim. “I gave the instructions for Wahid’s killing”, underworld don and Ibrahim’s arch nemesis Chhota Rajan said in an interview with India Today’s Special Correspondent Harinder Baweja, 31 January 1996
  • Goa Way – Unknown[11]Dutch aviation enthusiast and photographer Ruud Leeuw mentions something about a deal between Lufthansa Cityline and Goa Way Aviation falling through. (20 May 2004)[12]Goa Way was branded as “India’s holiday airline”
  • Gujarat Airways – Intense competition[13](Airlines That Went Bust – Ranju Sarkar, Business Standard (pdf)
  • Himalayan Aviation – Merged into Indian Airlines
  • Huns Air – Possible heavy competition from Pushpaka Aviation and Air India[14]“Pushpaka Aviation gives tough competition to Air-India” – Chander Uday Singh, India Today, 15 April 1981; a zero-casualty accident during landing of its major flight – a Vickers Viscount 768D – at Vijayawada Airport in Andhra Pradesh on 28 August 1980 which reportedly damaged the aircraft beyond repair[15]https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19800828-0; possible consequent financial issues
  • Indian (formerly Indian Airlines) – Merged into Air India after the formation of Air India Limited (erstwhile National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL)) in 2007; its subsidiary Air Alliance was also merged into Air India along with the latter’s Express brand, all of which are now operational[16]“Why one large airline makes economic sense” – Bhanoji Rao, The Hindu Business Line, 30 June 2005
  • Indian National Airways – (Pretty successful bout till its) nationalization and merger into Indian Airlines[17]Indian National Airways was the second private airline to start operations in India (circa 1933), albeit using a government contract, after Tata Airlines. Incidentally, Indian State Air Service was the first, operating in the Karachi-Calcutta route as early as 1929.
  • Indian Overseas (formerly Mistri Airways) – Cash crunch
  • Indian State Air Service – Unknown; possible government voluntary withdrawal
  • Indian Transcontinental – Unknown[18]During its prime, Indian Transcontinental Airways partnered with Imperial Airways (now British Airways).
  • Indus – Cash crunch; inability to obtain safety-critical Bombardier aircraft parts from General Electric’s Commercial Aviation Service (GECAS)
  • Irrawaddy Flotilla & Airways – Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942 (during World war II) forced the company’s personnel to destroy some of its own fleet (housed in Pazundaung (now in Myanmar)), the rest of which were automatically handed over to the Burmese government in 1948; supposedly the fleet owned by its Chennai division never saw a resurrection as the company went into voluntary liquidation two years later[19]Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (1865 – 1950) by the Maritime Archives & Library – The National Archives of the UK, October 2008 (pdf)
  • Jagson – License lapsed without a single regional flight operating between 2009 and 2010[20]Its charter service apparently is still operational between New Delhi and Mumbai.
  • Jamair – Cash crunch, legal issues, labor problems, increasing competition, and shrinking fleet[21]Jamair – Wikipedia (unreferenced and unverified)
  • Jet – Cash crunch; lack of trust by lenders (mainly SBI)[22]Jet’s subsidiaries JetLite and JetKonnect were discontinued in 2012 and 2014 respectively. As it happens, the former was merged into JetKonnect.
  • Jupiter – Possible competition by national carriers; lack of profitable routes
  • Kalinga – Merged into Indian Airlines
  • Kingfisher (+Kingfisher Red) – Massive financial losses and eventual cash crunch, probably a precursor to Mallya’s fraudulent activities
  • MDLR – Cash crunch due to the 2007-2008 financial crisis and a rapid rise in fuel prices; tax irregularities which resulted in convictions of several employees; failed to give lease payments to British Aerospace (BA) for its aircraft; founder Gopal Kanda was arrested for abetment of an employee’s (Geetika Sharma) suicide with charges later dropped by the Delhi High Court; eventually became a part of Emirates in 2010[23]MDLR stands for Murli Dhar Lakh Ram (Group); was known for its high number of female employees
  • Mesco – License withdrawal by DGCA probably by request in 2001; first private helicopter charter company (air taxi) in India and still active in charters and maintenance work
  • ModiLuft – Mounting tensions with its technical partner, Germany’s Lufthansa; was set to make a comeback as Royal Airways through a different owner[24](Airlines That Went Bust – Ranju Sarkar, Business Standard (pdf); its permit was eventually bought and converted into SpiceJet by entrepreneur Ajay Singh
  • NEPC – DGCA’s policy of mandatory ACAS-II/TCAS-II fitments and cash crunch; eventually the IATA suspended it and its subsidiary (Skyline NEPC) for non-payment of dues[25]NEPC Airlines, Skyline Grounded – K Giriprakash, Business Standard, 11 July 1997
  • Orient – Base transfer from Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) to Karachi, Pakistan; requisition by the Pakistan government post Partition of India; in 1955 was merged with the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA)
  • Paramount – Legal tussle with lessors of their liners manufactured by Brazilian aerospace firm Embraer; fleet grounding; multiple attempts to restart operations using Airbus and Bombardier aircraft in 2010, and then in 2013, did not materialize as lenders (SBI, again, among others) took its promoters to court (and DGCA) for pending dues and eventually seized the fleet
  • Premier (aka Easy Air) – Founder Umapathy Pinghapani’s arrest[26]Pinghapani, who promoted Premier Airways and its Easy Air brand from the United States, was arrested after he withheld the flying licence of a pilot (M Bhaskar) he had hired. (Anirban Chowdhury, The Economic Times, 4 March 2016); starting trouble; ministry’s no-objection certificate (NOC), which it gathered in 2014 expired a year later even before it could fly even a single flight
  • Pushpaka Aviation – Financial fallout with Air India, which Pushpaka was an associate of in running international flights between Mumbai and the Persian Gulf in the early 1980s; India Today reported a suspicious revocation of the contract between the parties including DGCA in late June 1983
  • RajAir (formerly Raj Airways) – Non-viability possibly due to high cost of fuel and competition[27]It began as Raj Airways in 1993 and shut down in less than a year before briefly reemerging as RajAir in 1995. (airlinehistory.co.uk, 29 July 2018)
  • Royal Star – Unknown
  • Safari – Government’s “very anti-private sector” reluctance to issue permits other than for 24-hour non-scheduled ones, as complained by founder and India’s “Air Commodore” Vijaypat Singhania; one of the first private aircraft operators in India in the 1970s[28]Action man Vijaypat – Archana Chaudhary, The Hindu Business Line, 24 July 2000[29]Safari is still known among aviation enthusiasts for its maintained fleet of three Douglas Dakotas (DC-3)
  • Sahara – Rebranded as Air Sahara; later acquired by Jet, rebranded as JetLite, and then merged with JetKonnect (see Air Sahara and Kingfisher above)
  • SGS (aka Air SGS) – Never took off despite a NOC from the ministry in 2016[30]SGS stands for Subhaash Gulaati Group
  • SpanAir – Grounded in 2014 due to safety violations both inside the cabin and on the ground; it still runs charter services
  • Svarima – Unknown
  • Tata (aka Tata Air Services) – Became a public limited company post Independence and was thus registered as Air India; while Air India International Limited catered to international flights, Air India (along with Indian Airlines) flew flights domestically as NACIL/Air India Limited; currently operating all flights under the single brand name of Air India[31]Air India is the first and the only Star Alliance member from India. (Air India to join Star Alliance – Cuckoo Paul, Air Transport World, 25 June 2014)[32]Tata now promotes Vistara as a domestic airline in India in partnership with Singapore Airlines (SIA) and AirAsia India along with AirAsia Berhad.
  • TAIP – Annexation of Goa in 1961; last of the fleet (Douglas DC-4), which escaped bombing by the Indian Armed Forces (IAF), was flown to Lisbon and never came back[33]TAIP stands for the Portuguese transliteration of Air Transport of Portuguese India
  • UBAir (UB Airlines) – Unknown or not launched[34]FDI in aviation: No flights of fancy, yet – Ashwini Phadnis, The Hindu Business Line, 25 October 2004; possible working name for United Breweries (UB) Group’s Kingfisher Airlines
  • Vayudoot – Money bleeding due to low seat occupancy; was run by the government
  • VIF – Inability to scale up with its single Dornier aircraft
  • Vijay – Unknown
  • Zoom Air – License suspension by DGCA over safety concerns in 2018; attempts to revive fell through in 2019.

That’s a interesting history of airlines in India, isn’t it?

A lot of these players entered the commercial aviation market following the Indian government’s Open Sky policy in 1992, but soon began to bite the dust due to “high cost of operations”, a reason given out by many modern, private players both inside and outside India. Really shows how many businesses aspired to fly high in the world of civil aviation in India and failed. And the small number of airlines active today (GoAir, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Vistara, AirAsia, TruJet, and Air India (Express, Alliance)) is not that encouraging either.

The fact that Jet is trying to revive itself makes me a hopeful man this otherwise dull pre-election-day Sunday. TN.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Thomas George And Ors. vs K.C.G. Verghese And Ors. on 7 June, 1994 – Indian Kanoon
2. Air Asiatic was the first airline to get a private air taxi operator license in India, circa 1989 (Review of “Wheels and Wings: An Autobiography by K.C.G. Verghese” – Anil Aggrawal, 2007)
3. Sahara Airlines history – Jennifer Mangally, USA Today
4. http://www.timetableimages.com/ttimages/ail1ai.htm
5. https://gyaniz.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/defunct-airlines-of-india/24 April 2011
6. According to brand strategist Harish Bijoor, Damania was the first to utilize the ministry’s permission to serve alcohol on board its flights, a welcome move allegedly jinxed by the arrival of low-cost carriers (LCC) like Kingfisher, IndiGo, and SpiceJet in the mid-2000s. (The Hindu Business Line, 23 February 2011)
7. In December 2018, Union Minister for Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu tweeted about the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Darbhanga Airport.
8. In 1953, eight pre-Independent private airlines – Deccan, Airways (India) Limited, Bharat, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga, Indian National Airways, Tata, and Air Services of India – were nationalized and merged and converted into Indian Airlines Corporation (IAC), which later became Air India after its domestic and international fleet joined hands until the early 1990s when the national monopoly of the skies changed
9. Deccan was the first airline of south India, bankrolled by the Nizam of Hyderabad, taking cues from the Tatas.(The plane that made India fly – Muthiah, The Hindu, 20 November 2006)
10. East-West was known for its alleged ties with underworld mobster Dawood Ibrahim. “I gave the instructions for Wahid’s killing”, underworld don and Ibrahim’s arch nemesis Chhota Rajan said in an interview with India Today’s Special Correspondent Harinder Baweja, 31 January 1996
11. Dutch aviation enthusiast and photographer Ruud Leeuw mentions something about a deal between Lufthansa Cityline and Goa Way Aviation falling through. (20 May 2004)
12. Goa Way was branded as “India’s holiday airline”
13, 24. (Airlines That Went Bust – Ranju Sarkar, Business Standard (pdf)
14. “Pushpaka Aviation gives tough competition to Air-India” – Chander Uday Singh, India Today, 15 April 1981
15. https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19800828-0
16. “Why one large airline makes economic sense” – Bhanoji Rao, The Hindu Business Line, 30 June 2005
17. Indian National Airways was the second private airline to start operations in India (circa 1933), albeit using a government contract, after Tata Airlines. Incidentally, Indian State Air Service was the first, operating in the Karachi-Calcutta route as early as 1929.
18. During its prime, Indian Transcontinental Airways partnered with Imperial Airways (now British Airways).
19. Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (1865 – 1950) by the Maritime Archives & Library – The National Archives of the UK, October 2008 (pdf)
20. Its charter service apparently is still operational between New Delhi and Mumbai.
21. Jamair – Wikipedia (unreferenced and unverified)
22. Jet’s subsidiaries JetLite and JetKonnect were discontinued in 2012 and 2014 respectively. As it happens, the former was merged into JetKonnect.
23. MDLR stands for Murli Dhar Lakh Ram (Group); was known for its high number of female employees
25. NEPC Airlines, Skyline Grounded – K Giriprakash, Business Standard, 11 July 1997
26. Pinghapani, who promoted Premier Airways and its Easy Air brand from the United States, was arrested after he withheld the flying licence of a pilot (M Bhaskar) he had hired. (Anirban Chowdhury, The Economic Times, 4 March 2016)
27. It began as Raj Airways in 1993 and shut down in less than a year before briefly reemerging as RajAir in 1995. (airlinehistory.co.uk, 29 July 2018)
28. Action man Vijaypat – Archana Chaudhary, The Hindu Business Line, 24 July 2000
29. Safari is still known among aviation enthusiasts for its maintained fleet of three Douglas Dakotas (DC-3)
30. SGS stands for Subhaash Gulaati Group
31. Air India is the first and the only Star Alliance member from India. (Air India to join Star Alliance – Cuckoo Paul, Air Transport World, 25 June 2014)
32. Tata now promotes Vistara as a domestic airline in India in partnership with Singapore Airlines (SIA) and AirAsia India along with AirAsia Berhad.
33. TAIP stands for the Portuguese transliteration of Air Transport of Portuguese India
34. FDI in aviation: No flights of fancy, yet – Ashwini Phadnis, The Hindu Business Line, 25 October 2004
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  • about me

    Tejas Nair is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, India. He writes about cinema, literature, current affairs, culture, and society. He manages search-based digital campaigns for Publicis. more »