Mumbai, the capital city of Maharashtra, India, is no longer considered a big aviation city in the country, with only two airlines having their corporate headquarters in the city. Around 30 years ago, Mumbai was hustling and bustling with flights as more carriers were based in the city, according to former airline executives.

Mumbai is also considered the birthplace of civil aviation in India, with the country’s inaugural flight in the 1930s. Most airlines still operating have since moved their headquarters to other cities, such as Delhi.

From many to two

Ultra-low-cost carrier Go First Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy this week, and Akasa Air, which started around a year ago, are the only two airlines headquartered in Mumbai. But a few decades ago, most airlines in India called the city home, according to Faisal Wahid of the defunct East-West Airlines, who spoke to The Times of India.

Air India's Airbus A320neo taxiing at Mumbai Airport.
Photo: BoeingMan777/Shutterstock

"Back in the 1990s, only ModiLuft and Air Sahara were based out of Delhi, but they had a lot of flights to Mumbai. All other big carriers such as Air India, EastWest, Damania Airways had their corporate offices and operational bases in Mumbai. Passengers from south and western India flew to Mumbai to board international flights. Mumbai was the first stop for hordes of migrants from Kerala bound for the Gulf in those days.”

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What does Indian Civil Aviation look like today?

Today, Delhi, Grurugram, and Bengaluru are considered India’s big aviation cities, with several airlines and flights operating from those cities. The country’s major carriers, IndiGo and SpiceJet, are based out of Grurugram, with Delhi being home to the headquarters of Air India, Vistara, and Alliance Air. AirAsia India and Star Air operate bases out of Bengaluru, according to The Times of India.

View of the international airport located at Mumbai, Maharshtra, India.
Photo: Paulose NK/Shutterstock

Air India Express is registered in Mumbai, but the airline operates in South India with six bases. Grounded Jet Airways was formerly based in Mumbai but reportedly had plans to have its headquarters in Delhi once it relaunches operations, according to Time Times of India. Newly formed regional airline Fly91 will be based in Goa once it commences operations later this year.

Parvez Damania from now-defunct Damania Airways explained why most airlines could not base their operations out of Mumbai even though they would like to.

“Mumbai was a huge aviation market in those days. It was the most obvious choice for an airline base,” Damania said. “Back then, getting night parking stands was not difficult, having an engineering base with a hangar that can accommodate an aircraft or two was not difficult. Airlines would want to be based out of Mumbai, but infrastructure constraints don’t allow it.”

The city’s history

Mumbai became the birthplace of civil aviation in India in 1932 when JRD Tata flew the inaugural flight on Tata Air Services from Karachi to Bombay, according to The Times of India. Captain Manoj Hathi, the former Director of Operations at Air India, spoke about Mumbai’s future in aviation.

“Mumbai has come a long way from being the birthplace of Tata Air to being a city with no major airline based out of it,” Hathi explained. “First Air India moved its base from Mumbai to Delhi, then Jet Airways filed for bankruptcy and now with GoFirst in deep waters it looks like Mumbai is on its last leg as far as civil aviation is concerned. One can only hope the Navi Mumbai airport will put the city back on aviation radar.”

Source: The Times of India