"On an exciting October dawn in 1932, a Puss Moth and I soared joyfully from Karachi with our first precious load of mail, on an inaugural flight to Bombay. As we hummed towards our destination at a 'dazzling' hundred miles an hour, I breathed a silent prayer for the success of our venture and for the safety of those who worked for it..."

The venture was India's first air service, Tata Airlines, which was later renamed Air-India, and the inaugural flight was manned by none other than JRD Tata, the industrialist who was also India's first licensed pilot.

Tata's pioneering days in Indian civil aviation feature in The Creation of Wealth: A Tata Story, written by RM Lala and published in 1981.

"We had no aids whatsoever on the ground or in the air," JRD Tata told Lala, "no radio, no navigational or landing guides of any kind. In fact we did not even have an aerodrome in Bombay. We used a mud flat at Juhu (fishing village-cum-beach resort near the city). The sea was below what we called our airfield, and during the monsoon the runway was below the sea! So we had to pack up each year, lock, stock and barrel – two planes, three pilots and three mechanics, and transfer ourselves to Poona (Pune) where we were allowed to use a maidan as an aerodrome, appropriately under the shadow of the Yeravada Jail!"

In its initial days, Tata Airlines ferried airmail from Karachi to Madras via Ahmedabad and Bombay. In 1946, it went public and became a joint stock company called Air-India Ltd. In 1947, Tatas came up with a proposal for a joint venture with the Indian government. Thus started Air-India International. On June 8, 1948, the Maharaja first flew to Europe.

But five years later, civil aviation was nationalised. Although JRD Tata was upset – he reportedly shot off a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru  – he agreed to continue as the chairman of Air India until 1978.

After the government opened the doors for private companies in 1990, the Tatas made several attempts to re-enter the Indian skies. But their joint venture with Singapore Airlines failed to get licences. In November 2010, Ratan Tata claimed his efforts had been thwarted by "an individual" who was asking for a bribe, which he refused to pay, even though a fellow industrialist later asked him why: "You are stupid people. The Minister was asking for Rs 15 crore. Why didn't you pay the money?"

After six decades, the Tatas would be back in the Indian skies  – with not one but two airlines. Tata Sons has a 30% stake in AirAsia, which starts operations today, and a 51% stake in a joint venture with Singapore Airlines which is also expected to launch this year.