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Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
More Power to the Skies
The government can do great service to the nation by strengthening its civil aviation
AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd) By AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)

Air power is not just a country’s air force or the air arms of all its armed forces put together. Air power of a nation, as defined in the Basic Doctrine of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is “the total ability of a nation to assert its will through the medium of air. It includes both civil and military aviation, existing and potential.” An understanding and assimilation of this basic fact, and planning and putting in place a system to harness the extraordinary airlift capability of civil aviation, is germane to acquiring true air mobility and lift in times of need – both in peace and in war.

When one talks of airlift, the Berlin Airlift comes to mind. In an environment when Europe and the
United States too were recovering from the after-effects of World War II, the blockading of West Berlin by the Russians was a challenge of monumental proposition; the choice was between giving-in to coercion or to fight for the right to freedom.

More Power to the Skies

As is well known, Western allies pooled all their resources together and in the period between 25 June 1948 to 30 September 1949, nearly 2.3 million tonnes of cargo (two thirds of which was coal) was airlifted through a narrow air corridor for the besieged citizens. The British contribution included aircraft from 25 civil airlines for which the British European Airways was responsible to the Royal Air Force (RAF). The magnitude of the air traffic can be gauged by the fact that at peak efficiency an aircraft was landing every 45 seconds.

However, in the romanticisation of the Berlin airlift, one tends to overlook a much bigger airlift of civilians carried out by Air India. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, a decision was taken to evacuate Indian nationals in Kuwait via Amman in Jordan. Air India, in a heroic airlift of just two months between 13 August and 11 October 1991, evacuated 111,000 Indians in 488 flights from Amman to Mumbai, a distance of 4,118 km. If the tonnage is worked out it would total almost 10 million tonnes, leaving the Berlin airlift way behind!

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