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When it took 7 days to fly from Britain to India

May 12, 2009 17:57 IST

It was considered a flight of fancy 80 years ago, but when the first flights from England to India took off in March 1929, it took seven days to cross the distance -- a far cry from what has today become one of the busiest sectors in aviation.

As several flights take off and land between Britain and India today, early aviation records here show that the first flight to India took off from the Croydon Airport in south London. The airport is no longer in use.

According to records, the first flight took off for Karachi in colonial India on March 30, 1929. It had to make more than 20 stops, travelling through France, Italy, Greece, Libya, Gaza, Iraq and then on to India.

Later in 1929, the route was extended to Jodhpur and Delhi.

The few passengers who were then able to afford the luxury of the first flight paid 130 pounds for the one-way journey. The service was operated by Imperial Airways, which ran the aircraft called 'Short Calcutta'.

Imperial Airways was tasked with pioneering a chain of long distance intercontinental air services linking the countries of the British Empire with the United Kingdom. The first of these routes was to the jewel in the crown: India.

Eastbound flights left Croydon every Saturday with the westbound flights from Karachi taking off on Sundays. Three different types of aircraft were used in various stages, an Armstrong Whitworth Argosy, a Short Calcutta and a Handley Page Hercules.

The company earned revenue by transporting mail. It cost 6 dimes to post a letter to India. At first, the planes carried mail from the countries they flew through, but this was soon extended to every country in the Postal Union, which included Iraq, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Canada.

The first flights to India carried about 300 pounds of mail, but this soon increased to an average of 550 pounds. In the first six months of the service, 11,893 pounds of mail was carried to the East, records show.

After six months and 26 flights, the Post Office proudly announced that the service had been delayed only three times.

Prasun Sonwalkar in London
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