Imperial Airways: First British national airline

Imperial airways, was formed on 1st April 1924. This was the manifestation of the British government’s determination to develop air transport, and the company was to receive $1 million in preferential air subsidies over ten years. Having acquired the businesses of British Marine Air Navigation Co., Daimler Airways, Handley Page Transport and Instone Air Lines, the British government created some order in the multitude of startup airline and mail carriers. Based in Croydon, a center for early aviation, the airlines undertook scheduled flights to Paris Le Bourget beginning in 3rd of May 1924. The first scheduled flight on this route had begun in 1919. The Chairman to head the company was Rt Hon Sir Eric Geddes GCB, GBE. He had accomplished much as the head of military transportation in WW1 and had a reputation for getting things done.

Its fleet consisted of seven DH34s, two Sea Eagles, three Handley Page W8bs and one Vickers Vimy. These were in obsolete and some were unserviceable. The first new airliner commissioned by Imperial Airways was the Handley Page W8F “City of Washington” on the 3rd November 1924. The Handley Page W9s and W10s were also acquired but the three-engined Armstrong Whitworth Argosy A.W.154 was revolutionary. Serving from 1926 to 1935, the three-engined design was a directive from Imperial Airways on grounds of safety. It brought the luxury factor into air travel with its roomy cabins and onboard meals first seen in the London -Paris “Silver Wing” service.

Imperial airways Armstrong Whitworth Argosy
British Imperial Airways, Armstrong Whitworth Argosy MK I type passenger plane.

Along with the merger, Imperial Airways inherited 1,760 miles of cross-Channel routes which they had to coordinate and reopen. Inline with its name, the duty of the company was to connect the burgeoning British empire and to improve economic air transport in face of stiff competition from French and German airlines. The empire stretched far and wide and this required additional planning especially with the varying flying conditions and terrains. Surveys and proving flights moved along at a feverish pitch. On 1st October 1925, the Cairo-Karachi air route had been completed. This was followed by routes down to Australia and across Africa and the Persian gulf.

Cairo-Karachi Air Route | source:caapakistan

Imperial Airways indeed revolutionized air travel and this era earned flying a romantic reputation from the flimsy contraptions it was viewed as before. An article, written by James McCook in 1937 tells of this romantic reputation in his journal entry.

Now London airliners wing their way over Europe, the Mediterranean, down over the lonely desert and by Persia to glamorous India. They speed southwards from Cairo over the history-haunted Nile, stir to life with the sound of their motors, the strange denizens of the darkest jungles of Africa and swing to rest at Cape Town, on the southerly tip of the former Dark Continent.

Finally, the route taken by Britain to develop its airlines industry is quite different from the route taken by the Americans a decade later where private corporations had to compete for trade routes and finance operations through investors. But there are similarities in the intent. While Britain expanded its airlines to connect its empire, the United States sought to expand its influence in the South American region.

References:

http://www.century-of-flight.net/Aviation%20history/coming%20of%20age/imperial%20airways.htm

https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/about-ba/history-and-heritage/explore-our-past/1920-1929#

http://www.nzstamps.org.uk/air/external/eastern/easternroute.html

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