India’s skies haven’t been quite the same for the last few days. Jet Airways, one of the country’s most prominent airlines, has temporarily shut down its operations. Jet had been struggling for a few years, and after hectic negotiations over its future failed, it was forced to to halt all its domestic and international flights.
It was the dramatic culmination of a near-three-decade journey, in which Jet Airways, which had started off in 1993 running an air taxi service between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, rose to become the country’s premier airline by 2002, but was soon upstaged by newer players.
Jet’s rise had been swift — in 1998, five years after being founded, it had become India’s second largest airline behind Indian Airlines. At that point, three of India’s top four airlines in terms of the number of passengers carried were owned by the government — Jet was followed by Air India and Alliance Air, with Sahara coming in at fifth place.
By 2002, Jet had overtaken Indian Airlines, and had become the biggest airline in India. Over the next few years, its lead over other airlines only grew, but changes were on the horizon — in 2007, India’s low-cost airlines entered the scene, and SpiceJet, Indigo and Go Air all started operations, as did Vijay Mallya-owned Kingfisher. At that point, Indian Airlines and Air India merged, temporarily displacing Jet from the top spot.
Jet had regained the top spot in 2009, but trouble was in the offing. Oil prices were rising, and it was becoming harder for airlines to make money. In 2012, Kingfisher Airlines, which had risen up the ranks to become India’s third largest player, shut down operations, abruptly dropping off the list altogether. Around the same time, Indigo was beginning its relentless march to the top. By 2013, it was India’s second largest airline, and in 2015, outstripped Jet to become the country’s largest player. Indigo’s growth after that was something to behold — it was soon carrying nearly twice as many passengers as Jet, which was now in second place. On 17th April 2019, riddled with mounting debts and being unable to find a buyer, Jet finally stopped all operations. At that point, it was still India’s second largest airline by the number of passengers carried.
With Jet off the list, the rankings now look like this: Indigo is firmly in first spot, but is now followed by Air India, SpiceJet, Go Air, Air Asia, and Vistara. Jet, the mainstay of the last 26 years, is nowhere to be found.