Dabolim and TAIP - 1
A tale of a Goan Airport and Airline
Gabriel de Figueiredo
The year is 1955. Nehru's blockade has started taking effect. The Portuguese governor, Gen. Paulo Bénard-Guedes, is quite concerned about the provision of vital supplies to the local populace and their security. The only modes of transport from Goa to the outside world and to Damão and Diu are via sea and air.
Long before 1955, there were pioneering flights by Capt. Moreira Cardoso and Capt. Sarmento Pimentel in 1930, and by Capt. Humberto da Cruz and Sgt. Lobato, in 1934, landing on a rudimentary dirt airstrip atop the hill of Dabolim. Then in 1934, Carlos Beck, an air pilot, flew a flimsy monoplane from Lisbon to Goa, taking four days for the journey stopping over at Beirut and Karachi, landing at Dabolim, where the “airport” consisted of just a small shed with a windsock.
Then India gained independence on 15 Aug 1947. Up until this time, as the Anglo-Portuguese relations were on a good footing, there were no fears of compromising Portuguese sovereignty over the territories comprising the Estado da Índia Portuguesa (EIP). In the later half of 1947, there were fears on part of some government officials that the EIP would sooner or later be forced to join the greater Indian Union.
In July 1951, the Direcção Geral de Fomento do Ministério do Ultramar proposed to the Direcção Geral da Aeronáutica Civil to send a Technical Mission for Aerodromes to:
a) study and detail a construction project to build an international airport in Goa;
b) study improvements to be made immediately to allow the use of the existing airstrips at Mormugão, Damão and Diu to land light twin-engined aeroplanes; and
c) study the viability of establishing air connections with the three segments of Estado da India Portuguesa.
Then on 25th June 1953, the Commander of the Military Air Transport Squadron undertook a feasibility study to airlift supplies to Mormugão. As the current airfields in Goa, Damão e Diu were not capable of receiving the heavy DC-4 "Skymaster" transporters, the government considered the creation of air transport services as a civilian company integrated within the government services of the Estado da Índia Portuguesa to organise and develop proper airports.
The Ministério do Ultramar (Overseas Ministry) expected that the aerodrome in Goa would come into practical use as soon as possible. Towards this end, the following personnel were put in charge of the construction works: Goa: Eng. Abranches Pinto; Damão: Eng. Boavida; and Diu: Eng. Correia Mendes.
Now whilst the plans for air transport for the EIP were being developed, the Indian Government instituted a blockade against the Estado da Índia Portuguesa, isolating these enclaves from the rest of the world. The flow of people and goods by land or sea into the Indian Union was prohibited, the railway line was broken, communication lines were cut, bank accounts of citizens of the EIP in banks in the Indian Union were frozen, monetary transfers between the Indian Union and the EIP were suspended - all this in an effort to induce the native populations in the Estado da Índia Portuguesa to rebel against the Portuguese. Little did the Indian Govt. realise that the population of the EIP continued to enjoy equal rights as the Portuguese (originally instituted by Marquês de Pombal in 1757), ever since the Acto Colonial of 1930 was revoked in 1950, a treatment quite different to what Indians in British India had to endure under the British.
Unfortunately for the Indian Govt, the general public of the EIP did not rise into revolt, and the Portuguese Govt. did everything it could to maintain the well-being of the population. Therefore, besides developing new maritime routes and the port at Mormugão to replace the previous reliance on Bombay, the Portuguese Govt. in the EIP fast-tracked plans for air transport to beat the blockade, and by Decreto-Lei № 40257 the "Serviço de Aeronáutica Civil" was created in the EIP with the responsibility of setting up the Transportes Aéreos da Índia Portuguesa - and thus TAIP was born.
The Director-General of the Serviço de Aeronáutica Civil settled on the purchase of a couple of quad-engined DeHavilland HERON aircraft (cap: 14 passengers; range: 608 nm). Once an order was placed for these, Flight-Pilot Major Austen Goodman Solano de Almeida, at that time Commander of Search and Rescue of Base Aérea No. 4 at Açores, was requested to organise equipment and the work-force for TAIP. He accepted the proposal with the proviso that he would have a free hand to choose the crews and support personnel. Thus, he invited and selected personnel from the Base Aérea No 4 for TAIP, leaving for Lisbon on 24th May 1955.
The infrastructure was quickly set up initially with the technical assistance of the Portuguese Air Force, building adequate aerodromes, runways, and hangars at Dabolim, Damão, and Diu, utilising funds of 1st and 2nd development budgets.
The airports in the smaller enclaves of Damão and Diu had to be strategically oriented so as to respect Indian airspace and avoid any confrontations with the Indian authorities on take-off and landing. In 1957, the Indian Govt. placed anti-aircraft guns just outside the air corridors and threatened to shoot down any planes violating the Indian airspace. The manoeuvres had to be precise and the pilots had to adhere to very strict routes. The margins of tolerance could not exceed by a mile. Such were the risks that the civilian aircraft had to face with respect to Damão and Diu.
On 29th May 1955, the first air mechanics left for Goa, flying first by plane to Karachi, thence by ship "Lurio" to Mormugão landing on 16 June 1955, to prepare and set up a basic maintenance environment at Dabolim. In the meanwhile, four pilots went to Hatfield, in England, to acquaint themselves with the newly purchased HERON aircraft. These aircraft were fitted with Gipsy engines, which the air mechanics already in Goa were familiar with.
The first TAIP plane, CR-IAA, left Lisbon on 2nd August 1955 captained by Maj. Solano de Almeida with a crew consisting of Capt. Palma Rego, Sgt. Simões Cardoso (R/T) and 2nd Sgt. Desterro de Brito (MMA), and arrived Goa on the 10th August. The aeroplane was carrying a full complement of passengers being the families of one of the mechanics and that of the Radiotelegraph operator. This maiden voyage proved that the HERON was not quite up the mark for these journeys, as the fuel load had to be reduced to take the full load of passengers, forcing numerous refuelling stops. At Karachi, the Flight-Pilot was informed that the airports at Damão and Diu were not quite ready.
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