A tribute to Dr Alagappa Chettiar,(6 April 1909 – 5 April 1957)

The business tycoon, philanthropist and aviator who received the Padma Bhushan in 1957.

Actor Suriya’s role as Maara in Soorarai Pottru is said to be based on the journey of retired Army Captain G R Gopinath who established the low cost Deccan Airways in the late 1990s. Though Gopinath is from Karnataka, the film has Maara belonging to Usilampatti, about 40 kms west of Madurai.

But not many perhaps are aware that decades ago from a non-descript village called Kottaiyur, about 100 kms North of Madurai, was born a man with similar dreams.

Dr.KV AL RM Alagappa Chettiar (AC), with a fascination for flying obtained his pilot training and certificate in 1933 from Croydon, London, and launched Jupiter Airways in early 1947 with a fleet of eight aircraft.

Mr. K.V. Al. Rm. Alagappa Chettiar, who has left for Calcutta en route on a “flying” visit to Malaya where he has business interests.

He was considered a pioneer in India’s aviation history because when the Second World War ended in 1945 and the government announced the sale of surplus Dakotas and the Douglas DCs, AC was among the first buyers of the workhorses because he envisioned the rising popularity of air transport.

A fleet of aircrafts for a new India

Dr Chettiar always had a fascination with flying, and when he was in London, he obtained a pilot’s license in Croydon. Years later, in 1947, this very fascination gave India the Jupiter Airlines. “When he was active in the stock market, he bought over Jupiter Airways, which had a fleet of Dakota aircrafts.

He started the airlines for mass transit,” his grandson says.
At the onset of the Partition of India, Dr Chettiar was the first to offer his aircrafts to the government to evacuate families from Pakistan. The Indian Army was also in need of aircrafts for their troops, and Dr Chettiar’s flights carried Army personnel, armour, resources and refugees alike.

Dr Vairavan Says that during one particular mission,

One of the Jupiter Airlines planes crashed. “One of his managers came to him and said, ‘Sir, the plane has crashed. The insurance company did not cover the crash, as the plane was only insured for civilian duties.’ But my grandfather wasn’t concerned about that.

His only and immediate response was — ‘We have another plane, send that’. So it was never about the money for him. He was just concerned with doing the right thing.”

The Hindu reported that in 1948, Jupiter Airways received its license to fly passenger routes from Meenambakkam, which became among the first few cities in the country to have an airport. “The flying time to Delhi via Vishakhapatman and Nagpur was approximately eight hours, and the pilots were paid Rs 40 every hour for flying,” the report said.

Dr Chettiar sold his airlines in 1953, a few years before he passed, when the Indian Airlines was nationalised.

merabharat-mahan I am proud to be an Indian .

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