I wrote a post in April 2009 about Indian aviation titled “Flying in those days”, and referred to a small airline called Jamair.
Since then, I have received messages from two people who were closely involved with Jamair, though in different ways.
One was from Katherine Quinn, the daughter of one of Jamair’s founders, Eddie Quinn. I had posted her comment in September 2011.
The other was this morning from Lalit Mawkin who wrote, “This is just amazing — 5th December 1970, my uncle Captain SS Sehgal was co-pilot with Captain Mehta and they died in that crash behind INA. I was just browsing about 1970 and Jamiar and found this post which carried me back to 1970’s. Thanks. LK Mawkin
Thanks for your comment, Lalit. I am sure you recall your uncle with considerable pride.
In today’s jet age, we forget about those intrepid fliers who helped transform commercial aviation. They deserve to be saluted.
When we think about commercial aviation in India, our mind immediately turns to the large carriers such as Air India, Indian, Jet Airways and Kingfisher, as well as the budget carriers such as Spice Jet, JetLite, IndiGo, Paramount, etc. And, if we cast our minds back a few years, we will, perhaps, remember some other carriers that have now folded up such as East West Airlines, NEPC Airlines, Archana Airways, Damania Airways, ModiLuft and Vayudoot.
When commercial aviation began in India many decades ago, after the end of the Second World War, there were many small operators, some of them regional, such as Deccan Airways, Bharat Airways, Air India, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga Airlines, Indian National Airways, Air Services India, and Air Services of India. These were merged, nationalized, and brought under the fold of what became known as Indian Airlines Corporation. Simultaneously, Air India was set up to serve travel overseas.
What is little known is that some of the small “airlines” continued to operate non-scheduled services, carrying, in some cases, passengers to remote areas, and in others, carried cargo. Some of them even flew to overseas destinations such as the Gulf.
The non-scheduled operators included Jamair, Pushpaka Aviation, Jagson Airlines, MDLR Airlines, etc. Some small operators such as Jagson Airlines continue to fly even today, though, sadly, most have long since disappeared.
As a child, I lived about two kilometres from Safdarjung Airport in New Delhi. This used to be the city’s civil airport several decades ago till the new, larger Palam airport was built. It was later used primarily by the Delhi Flying Club and a few private aircraft owners.
Each morning, those days, I used to wake up to the loud sound of a DC-3 Dakota aircraft taking off – the deep-throated roar of the two engines at full throttle was distinctive. I am not sure, but I think it was used as a charter. The aircraft belonged to Jamair.
Jamair was formed in 1946 by James B Muff and Eddie Quinn backed by Maharajah Jam Sahib Nawanagar of Jamnagar. Moving to Calcutta in 1948, Jamair operated air supply missions in the North East Frontier and Assam, as well as a Calcutta-Bombay scheduled service. It ceased operations in 1977.
My first ever flight was a joy ride on a Jamair DC-3 (VT-CZC) on 2nd October 1969. The flights were offered to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s 100th birth anniversary. The 15-minute “ride” cost 15 Rupees, and involved a take-off from Safdarjung Airport, a relatively low level (7,000 feet, perhaps) swing over parts of the city and over the river Yamuna, and back for a bumpy landing.
On 5th December 1970, I woke up, as usual, to the roar of the Dakota taking-off, and dozed off for a few minutes. About half an hour later, word came from some neighbours that an aircraft had crashed near INA Market. I grabbed my bicycle, pedalled furiously towards the market, and on getting there, was horrified to see the DC-3 lying on the ground, it’s front end smashed. It was VT-CZC, the same aircraft in which I had my first flight. I was to hear later that the aircraft lost power as it took off, the cause being fuel starvation to one of the engines. The brave pilot had manoeuvred the stricken craft and brought it down in a small patch of land right beside the crowded market. There were four casualties, the pilots included.
It was a sad moment, and the sight of the broken Dakota lying on the field plays in my mind to this day.
We take commercial flying for granted today. In the process, though, we forget those intrepid pioneers who brought aviation to the country.