India's first air service was inaugurated in 1932 when J.R.D. Tata landed on a mud flat at Juhu in Bombay carrying mail from Karachi on a de Havilland Puss Moth. The planes initially used by Tata Airlines were too small to carry passengers on a regular basis. In 1946 Tata Air Lines became a joint stock company called Air-India Ltd, providing domestic flights. Air-India International, 49 per cent government owned and 25 per cent owned by Tatas, made its maiden flight on June 8th, 1948 from Bombay to London via Cairo and Geneva using Malabar Princess, a Lockheed Super L-749 Constellation. The Malabar Princess tragically struck the face of Mont Blanc on November 3rd 1950 while on descent into Geneva from Bombay via Cairo killing 40 passengers and 8 crew members. 16 years later another ill-fated Air-India aircraft, the Kanchenjunga (a Boeing 707 jetliner), struck Mont Blanc in almost the same spot on January 24, 1966 enroute to New York city while descending into Geneva.
After the Second World War as many as eleven private domestic airlines operated in India. The supply-demand was not in balance as the Indian aviation market was still in a fledgling state. Many of these airlines were making heavy losses as a result of which the government decided to nationalise the airlines by forming one domestic carrier and one international flag carrier. In 1953 Air-India International (name truncated to Air-India in 1962) became a public sector corporation along with Indian Airlines Corporation (catering to domestic and regional routes). Eight erstwhile private airlines were merged to form Indian Airlines Corp., namely Deccan Airways, Bharat Airways, Air India, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga Airlines, Indian National Airways, Air Services of India and Air-Services India. The fleet was fairly big consisting of 73 DC-3 Dakotas, 12 Vikings, 3 DC-4s and some other smaller aircraft.
The Indian civil aviation industry has witnessed annual growth rates of upto 30 in recent years prior to the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. A slew of low-cost airlines compete with the more established operators. Aviation infrastructure has not kept pace with the increased traffic and passenger volumes although modernisation and expansion of existing and greenfield airports have added capacity. Privatisation of the two major airports at Mumbai and Delhi has been completed and two major greenfield airports were opened at Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Other greenfield airports planned include Noida International Airport and Navi Mumbai International Airport. Another major change as a result of deregulation of the commercial aviation sector in India has been the option for private airlines to fly overseas after completing five years of operations in the domestic market.
The civil aviation scenery in India has evolved in many ways. Whereas prior to 1992, when the two public sector airlines, namely Air-India and Indian Airlines enjoyed a monopoly in the domestic sector, today almost a dozen airlines are competing for a market share in the rapidly growing domestic market. In the early nineties, soon after deregulation, many of the newly established airlines went bust, including Modiluft, Damania (later Skyline NEPC), Gujarat Airways, East West, UBAir and VIF.
The Delhi-Mumbai air route was ranked as the third busiest in the world with 45 188 departures in 2018. The ten busiest domestic air routes are all in Asia although the Delhi-Mumbai route is not ranked among the ten busiest routes (approx. 35 daily departures in Jan '21).
The government owned Airports Authority of India (AAI) manages 126 airports and civil enclaves out of a total of 449 airports and airstrips found in India. Indian airports handled over 341 million passengers in 2018. Freight handled amounted to 2.28 million tons in 2014/15.
Foreign air carriers operated 808 charter flights to Goa (India's main destination for international charter flights) during the 2017-18 season (Oct thru Mar 12).
India's commercial airline fleet is currently among the top ten nations in the world while the domestic air market holds third position in the world.
India is the third largest civil aviation market based on the number of weekly seats available at over 2.9 million at the beginning of Jan '21. The two largest civil aviation markets in the world ie China (14.8 m seats) and USA (12.1 m seats) are significantly larger than India.