mis à jour / updated :



                 

                                                                                                                            HOME    INDEX

free  lien The Empire's Airway: British Civil Aviation from 1919 to 1939
Business History Unit, London School of Economics Peter J. Lyth  source 



The Pioneers, 1918-1924
Imperial Airways, 1924-1939
The Origins of BOAC, 1935-1939






Commercial air transport as a regulated industry, rather than sporadic enterprises, began in Europe and, a little later, in the United States 1. By the mid- 19308 Europe had its "flag-carriers" and the United States its "big four" airlines. A fundamental distinction had emerged: the Americans had long distances and a vast domestic air travel market, the Europeans had short distances, already well served by the railways, but also colonies on the other side of the world 2. This dichotomy, more than anything else, determined the broad pattern of development in international civil aviation until the 1950s, and led to the creation of European airlines which were more politicized than their US counterparts, more likely to be state-owned monopolies, more likely to be dependent on government subsidies and more likely to pursue prestige than passengers.
The history of commercial aviation in Britain is a close reflection of this European picture. In 1923 Sir Sefton Brancker, the first Director-General of Civil Aviation at the British Air Ministry announced that Britain's "future lies in the air, just as our past has come from the sea" 3. Just as the Royal Navy had held together a sprawling empire in the nineteenth century, so a fleet of airliners would consolidate Britain's imperial power in the twentieth. Imperialism was a compelling motive for British aviators and airline managers in the inter- war years 4. Britain was not the only European country where the early development of civil aviation was associated with colonies, and the chapters here on Belgium, France and Holland confirm the importance of air links to overseas possessions, but Britain's empire was the biggest and its faith in the imperial idea was probably the deepest. This chapter traces the realization of that idea in British civil aviation and takes as its centerpiece the 15-year history of Imperial Airways. But first it is necessary to look at the early days and assess the role of Britain's airline pioneers.

The Pioneers, 1918-1924   

Between 1919 and 1924, civil aviation in Britain effected a shaky take-off. The first regular international passenger air service was inaugurated on 25 August 1919 by Aircraft Transport & Travel (AT&T) between London (Hounslow) and Paris (Le Bourget) 5. AT&T had been founded by the entrepreneur and newspaper proprietor George Holt Thomas during the First World War but had not been able to operate before because of the wartime ban on civil flying. Holt Thomas also founded the Aircraft Manufacturing Co (Airco), with Geoffrey de Havilland as designer and test pilot, and Airco aircraft such as the DH.4 formed the original AT&T fleet. London-Paris (also London-Brussels) was an obvious route to begin with because it was about the right distance for the aircraft of the time (200 miles), had good traffic potential between the two capitals, and involved a sea crossing which gave it an edge over surface transport. AT&T's London-Paris service took around two and a half hours and cost £15 for a single passenger fare, although the majority of the payload was more likely to be mail or express freight such as newspapers or oysters 6. About a week after AT&T's debut, Handley Page Transport began a second Paris service using converted versions of the Handley Page HP.0/700 bomber. Early in 1920 they were joined on the Paris run by a third British airline established by the ship-owner Instone, also flying Airco DH.4s. Shortly afterwards Handley Page opened a service to Amsterdam, sharing the route with the newly-established KLM.
Clearly then, in the first year of British air transport there was no shortage of "start-up" companies. There was also no lack of hardware and skills: thanks to the war there were large numbers of surplus aircraft and a pool of experienced pilots and mechanics. Unfortunately, the favorable picture on the supply side was not matched by a comparable measure of demand and a promising start in the summer of 1919 was followed by a set-back as passenger traffic dried up totally in the winter months. The following summer business improved but then fell off again in the winter; one of the enduring features of the European air travel market had manifest itself- a strong seasonal fluctuation in demand. In 1920, of the 6,716 passengers carried on routes between Britain and Continental Europe, 3,106 were carried in the third quarter alone (July, August, September) while only 333 were carried in the first7. Except for these summer months, there were simply not enough passengers to go around and, beginning with AT&T in December 1920, the British operators folded one after the other, until for a brief while in the spring of 1921 there was not a single commercial airline in the country.

This episode seems to have aroused a reluctant British government into action. The importance of government backing for civil aviation had actually been recognised as early as 1917 (and had been acknowledged in at least two government reports), but there had been little support for the idea that the state should assume any financial responsibility for fledgling airlines 8. Winston Churchill, in one of his less prescient moments, had said in 1920 that if commercial air transport was to fly, it "must fly by itself" 9. However, with Britain's airlines financially grounded, and the humiliating prospect looming of air communications to the Continent being totally dependent on KLM and the subsidized French operators, it was acknowledged that government must act. Britain was probably the largest military air power in the world and to have no part in the growth of commercial air transport was a situation which no government could seriously contemplate. Thus, for reasons of prestige alone Britain could not afford to let itself fall behind. A scheme was drawn up by the so- called Cross-Channel Subsidies Committee for the London-Paris service, under which Handley Page and Instone were granted a subsidy of £75,625 from March 1921. This "temporary scheme" was replaced with a "permanent" one in April 1922 that extended the subsidy (now £119,291) to a new, third contender, the Daimler Hire Co. Both schemes allowed open competition between the British airlines on the London-Paris route. However, with such a weak traffic offering, this mistake was soon recognized and a further "revised" scheme was introduced in October 1922 with the proviso that the airlines cease competing with each other and develop separate routes in Europe 10. The subsidy was given according to the performance of a minimum number of flights rather than revenue received. The Daimler airline, which had taken over the assets of AT&T as well as the services of George Woods Humphery from Handley Page, began a London-Paris service in April 1922, and then introduced a Manchester-London-Amsterdam service with onward flights to Hamburg and Berlin. A fourth airline, British Marine Air Navigation, was formed in March 1923, although its flying-boat services from Southampton to Guernsey, Cherbourg and Le Havre did not commence until August 11.

The "revised" scheme increased the share of traffic on British aircraft, but did little to make the airlines more viable, while the minimum performance stipulation provided no encouragement to expand routes or acquire more efficient aircraft 12. In 1921 passenger air traffic across the Channel had risen to 10,731, although the British share in this trade had sunk from 86% (1920) to 49%. In 1922, the first full year of subsidies, 12,359 passengers were carried and the British share recovered somewhat to 59%. The following year the rise in passengers figures continued to 15,136, with British airlines taking nearly 80% 13. Yet despite this progress the airlines could not come even close to making a profit. There are few surviving financial data on these companies and in any case few of them were forthcoming about the true state of their accounts, but there is no doubt that they were struggling 14. The summer boom was inevitably followed by the winter slump and the collapse of revenues. And because of their uneconomical aircraft, their costs were so high that they would have had difficulty covering them with one hundred per cent loads - as it was, they were lucky to take off with their aircraft half-full 15. Their operations were neither sufficiently dependable nor efficient enough to mount any kind of challenge to the railways. Their fares were high and their regularity was poor, either because of adverse weather or chronically unreliable engines. On one of Handley Page's early passenger services to Zurich, for example, the pilot simply announced that "...engine trouble was going to force him to make a landing earlier than scheduled and that he hoped the passengers would not mind"16(!).

In January 1923, with no prospect of unsubsidized air travel in sight, the government appointed a committee under the chairmanship of the banker Sir Herbert Hambling to look into the future of British civil aviation and advise on the best method of fostering it. In its report, the Hambling committee saw no benefit in continuing the multi-company system of competing operators, whatever the subsidy arrangement might be. With the subsidy rate practically double the airline's operating revenue, the government was in effect competing with itself and simply passing on the losses attributable to competition to the taxpayer. The committee recommended that the four existing British airlines be merged to form a single company and that this "chosen instrument" should have a "privileged position as regards subsidies". Short-term financial support was to be replaced with a "bolder policy" of subsidy spread over ten years. The committee also stipulated -and this was of importance to later developments- that the new airline should be "a commercial organisation run entirely on business lines" 17.
After less than five years of experience, competition between British airlines was abandoned. The era of subsidy had already begun, now monopoly privilege was to be added; a pattern repeated all over Europe and probably the only way to create adequately capitalized undertakings at this early stage in the airline industry's development. After several months of acrimonious negotiations between the Instone group and the other three companies, the Air Ministry signed an agreement with them which led to their merger in March 1924 and the creation of the new "chosen instrument" - Imperial Airways.

Imperial Airways, 1924-1939 
Birth and Performance

Imperial Airways was a private monopoly with a public subsidy; in other words it paid an annual dividend to private shareholders and financed it out of the taxpayers' pocket. This state of affairs troubled a number of people throughout its fifteen-year existence and eventually contributed to the airline's nemesis. On the other hand, it is hard to think of any alternative form in 1924, given that the British government wanted to see civil aviation put on an economic footing and wean it off subsidies as expeditiously as possible. Competition between independent private operators had failed, and the airline industry's future was still far too uncertain (and Britain's free market traditions still far too pervasive) to warrant the creation of a state-owned flag-carrier.

Imperial Airways' initial prospectus called for a share capital of £1 million, of which half was on offer at £1 per share. The chairman of the board was the former railway executive, Sir Eric Geddes. He had wide transport experience and had even been Minister of Transport briefly in 1919, but he knew nothing about aviation and as he was also chairman of the Dunlop Rubber Co, was never able to devote more than half his time to running the airline. A government subsidy of £1 million was promised, to be paid in diminishing instalments over a 10 year period, in return for which the government expected Imperial Airways to fly a minimum of 800,000 operational miles per year, rising to 1 million after four years 18. In addition the airline was required to use exclusively British aircraft and engines. To start with, it inherited a motley fleet from the constituent companies consisting of seven DH.34s, three Handley Page W.8bs, two Supermarine Sea Eagles, and a Vickers Vimy 19. These would have to be replaced with more economic types, whatever route policy Imperial decided on.
The method of subsidy payment was soon found to be mistaken: merely performing a minimum mileage did nothing to foster either the development of more modern aircraft or the growth of passenger traffic because all aircraft mileage qualified for subsidy irrespective of whether or not it was flown by large, fast aircraft or small, slow ones. In 1926 therefore the subsidy system was modified to one of "horse-power miles", the idea being that with more powerful aircraft attracting a greater subsidy, there would be an inducement to operate larger types. However this was not entirely satisfactory either as the use of extra engines on Imperial's aircraft (hence more horse-power) did not mean that they were up-to-date in any other way, e.g. in speed or aerodynamics. The prospectus provided for a ten per cent dividend to be paid to Imperial's shareholders, after which any remaining profit was to be shared between government, in repayment of subsidy, future development costs, and additional dividends. This last provision is interesting, because if substantial profits had been made and this division of the spoils had actually taken place, the subsidy would not have been a subsidy at all, but a loan 20. In fact Imperial Airways sustained losses in the first two years, and did not manage to pay any dividend at all until 1927 (see Table 1).


Year ended March 31st
Notes: * : Includes subsidy for experimental trans-Atlantic flights. Source: Compiled from data in A.-J. Quin-Harkin, Imperial Airways; p. 206; Imperial Airways, Report of the Annual General Meeting, 1925-1938 ; J. Masefield, "Some Economic Factors", p. 105, Annexe A; Air Ministry, Civil Aviation Statistical and Technical Review, 1938, p. 11; R. Higham, Imperial Air Routes, p. 348; Cmd. 5685, 85, HC.Deb.5s.54, 5.6.1939.

It has been said that Imperial Airways "began in a frigid climate of good intentions not unmingled with hostility"21. The rancorous negotiations between the constituent companies in the months before the merger had left a rather sour atmosphere and Instone, in particular, felt that it had been forced into a shotgun marriage and not given sufficient chance to prove its worth as an independent operator. There was also widespread concern about how the new airline would work in practice and this was reflected in the attitude of the City where the planned share issue was shunned and the underwriters had to absorb about 75 per cent of it. The government had stipulated that no other company but Imperial Airways would receive a subsidy for at least ten years, after which it was hoped that the carrier would be self-supporting. This proved a vain hope, and the subsidy had to be extended, but the decade of monopoly protection did mean that Imperial Airways would have time to establish efficient and safe operations without the challenge of competition from other British carriers. The problem was that nobody really knew what it would do with this period of privileged protection.

It began life with a strike. Out of 260 staff, Imperial Airways had 19 pilots who were unhappy about their pay and conditions of service and felt that the new company "had waited until they were officially unemployed (with the demise of the constituent companies) in order to buy them at a cheaper
price" 22. Thus the airline was grounded before it had flown a single service. Admittedly the pilots were a group of status-conscious individualists the like of which had not been seen before in British transport undertakings, but the conflict was probably aggravated by the attitude of the new general manager, George Woods Humphery. He had had extensive experience of airline management with both Handley Page and Daimler, but proved to be rather clumsy in negotiations with his employees. Moreover chairman Sir Eric Geddes had no conception of the "esprit de corps" among the pilots and seemed to regard "them in the same light as the engine drivers he had known on the old North Eastern Railway"23. The strike did not last long but it struck a chord for the future and throughout its history Imperial Airways had a poor labour record and serious disputes between pilots and management were to resurface in the 1930s. They were a reflection of a fundamental feature of the airline, namely the high priority which its management placed on profits and meeting its obligations to the shareholders. "When Imperial Airways was formed", wrote a correspondent of The Aeroplane in 1925, "it was believed that its policy was the assistance of the progress of Civil Aviation. That, one is told, is an entirely erroneous idea and Imperial Airways is a money-making concern and nothing more" 24. The comment may be somewhat uncharitable, given that Imperial was hardly a year old, but in comparison with other European flag-carriers in the inter- war years, Imperial Airways was obsessively anxious to reduce costs and squeeze the last penny out of its assets. It seemed to make the conservation of its resources an article of faith and delayed the introduction of new aircraft and - restricted the number of new ones bought - to the barest minimum. This latter had the consequence that aircraft shortages (particularly in the 1930s) often resulted in the loss of passenger services. For the opinion of Woods Humphery himself (he became a director of the company in 1929) a revealing insight is provided in a lecture on Imperial Airways which he gave in 1933 and in which he described the 1924 mandate given to Imperial "to make Air Transport a self-supporting industry -a tangible asset of the Empire- free of the artificial respiration of subsidies, at the earliest possible moment" (emphasis -PL)25.

Judging Imperial Airways' financial performance as an airline and commercial undertaking is complicated by the secrecy with which it surrounded its operations. It is difficult for instance to establish its annual operating revenue and expenditure because neither those figures nor the exact amount which it received in subsidy from the government appear in its annual accounts 26. Imperial was one of the first airlines in the world to show a profit, but what was the nature of that profit? In the year ended March 1935, for example, it declared a profit of £133,769, but it also received a subsidy of £561,556 in addition to its trading revenue (See Table 1). The Profit & Loss account for that year simply states that the airline's trading balance "after crediting subsidies and charging all working expenses" was £366,446; we are not told what the revenue or the expenses were, however it is clear that there would have been no "profit" without the subsidy27. What we do know is that over its 15-year history Imperial Airways carried about 576,000 passengers plus thousands of tons of mail. The split between its European and Empire services was about 85:15, e.g. in 1935 it carried 48,642 passengers on its European services and 7, 103 on the Empire routes 28. The most striking aspect of the figures in the Table 1 is the increasingly uneven division of the subsidy between European and Empire services, a wholly opposite trend to the division of passenger traffic. While 58 per cent of the subsidy in 1928 was still supporting European services, five years later in 1933 only 20 per cent was devoted to Europe, the rest went on expanding the Empire network. In 1929 a new ten-year agreement was signed, confirming Imperial's exclusive right to government subsidies and substantially altering Imperial's 1924 brief in the direction of Empire and away from Europe 29. Certainly Imperial received substantially less in subsidy than its French or German rivals. In 1935 the ratio of subsidy to overall revenue was: 79 per cent for Air France, 65 per cent for Deutsche Luft Hansa, and 35 per cent for Imperial Airways 30. On the other hand Imperial Airways was considerably smaller than either Deutsche Luft Hansa or Air France, by almost any measurement except route mileage.

By the mid- 1930s Imperial Airways had one of the longest route networks in the world, but while the Empire route accounted for over half the airline's passenger mileage, they carried only a fraction of its passengers. Passenger facilities were in any case very poor along the routes and aircraft such as the Armstrong Whitworth AW 15 Atalanta, which was a mainstay of Imperial's African and Asian fleet, rarely had room for more than ten seats; the rest of its capacity being taken up with mail31. Before the Second World War the carriage of mail, whether across Europe or to colonial outposts, was of greater importance than the transport of passengers, who were in any case a tiny elite. Air mail was viewed by Imperial's management as the most important task facing the airline. "To the scattered communities of the Empire", noted Geddes, "it is as the air mail that our service bulks first in their minds, and secondly as a passenger and freight service" 32. The novelty of air mail in the 1930s galvanised the imagination of businessmen and (to a lesser extent) governments in a similar way to the communications revolution brought about by the Internet in the 1990s. In Britain it culminated in the Empire Air Mail Scheme (EAMS) which was first proposed in 1932 and accepted by the government in December 1934. The idea was that all first-class mail to the colonies and dominions would henceforth be carried by air. In 1933 a Memorandum from Imperial Airways to the government initiated the plan, envisaging an air mail service without surcharge in operation by 1937. After clearing protracted political obstacles, it was introduced in stages to South Africa (1937), India and finally Australia (1938), and led to a significant increase in staff numbers from 1,800 (1935) to 3,500 (1939) 33. Its first major test came with the Christmas mail in 1938 - in six weeks more than 200 tons of air mail was dispatched by Imperial Airways compared to 27 tons in 1936. The doctrine that mail took precedence over passengers for Imperial is perfectly exemplified by the fact that passenger services had to be severely restricted during the "great postal airlift" as there was simply not enough aircraft to carry the mail and passengers 34.
Mass tourism by air, such as we have known since the 1960s, did not exist in the inter-war years. However in 1928 Imperial Airways did launch what appears to have been the first inclusive package tour by air, but at a price (£435 per person) and with an itinerary which was clearly aimed at a wealthy clientele. It was a winter holiday comprising a 35-day tour of France, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Italy, and included de luxe accommodation in the best hotels all along the route, everything in fact except alcoholic beverages, for which a wealthy tourist could be expected to pay extra. An example of what was to be expected can be seen from the 13th Day which included "an air journey of five hundred and fifty miles from Marrakesh to Oran via Fez. Marrakesh aerodrome is left at 9.15 am and Fez reached at 12.15, luncheon being served in the air ... at Oran an excellent dinner may be anticipated at the Grand Hotel" 35. Advertising of the period shows that airlines, particularly Imperial, were anxious to have their services measured against the standards of a deluxe rail compartment, or a cabin on an ocean liner. They appealed openly to the snobbism of their passengers and encouraged the idea that certain types of sophisticated people traveled by plane: businessmen, rich honeymoon couples, fast-moving lawyers, fresh oysters. And when celebrity or royal passengers were carried, the airline never failed to broadcast the fact, e.g. in 1927 Imperial Airways carried Prince George ... incognito36. In fact Imperial's average passenger may have been somewhat less glamorous: the typical air traveler was most likely to be a government official. In 1938 an analysis of passenger traffic by the Air Ministry on the Empire routes indicated that the largest percentage of passengers were travelers on urgent business. "The next largest group consists of Government officials, Army officers and others..."37.

Route Development 

With the initial strike settled, Imperial Airways flew its first service in late April 1924 to Paris, with the following destinations added during the course of the summer: Brussels and Cologne (May), Amsterdam, Hanover and Berlin (June), Paris, Basle and Zurich (June) 38. These routes had been established by the constituent companies: Handley Page had developed the prestigious route to Paris, Basle and Zurich, Instones had offered the service to Brussels and Cologne, while Daimler had pioneered the route from Manchester to Berlin via London, Amsterdam and Hamburg, in conjunction with KLM and the German carrier Aero Lloyd. Thereafter little further European route development was undertaken, indeed Imperial abandoned parts of the original network so that some destinations from London became entirely dependent on foreign carriers. In 1925 a short-lived service to Copenhagen and Malmö was given to the Danes, and the following year the Berlin service was handed to the newly- founded Deutsche Luft Hansa. By 1927 Imperial had relinquished northern Europe completely, despite its importance to British businessmen, and was content to be an agent for Dutch, German and Scandinavian operators. Until 1936 the only competition on the London- Amsterdam route was between two foreign carriers (KLM and Luft Hansa)39. An attempt was made in 1930 to open a service from northern England to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, but it failed for lack of government support and instead KLM was allowed to fly a daily service between Amsterdam and Liverpool via Hull, the Dutch receiving permission not only to carry mail from the British cities to Holland, Germany and Scandinavia, but also passengers on the internal route between Hull and Liverpool.

Instead Imperial Airways turned its attention to the Empire. In 1926 a special committee of the Imperial Conference had presented plans for the development of an ambitious system of air services between Britain and its Empire 40, the first step being the link between Cairo and Baghdad. The Royal Air Force (RAF), which was responsible for keeping the peace in Iraq in the 1920s, already operated the route to carry mail and supplies between the two cities. Navigation was so rudimentary that pilots simply followed a furrow ploughed in the featureless desert41. By 1927 Imperial Airways had taken over the service from the RAF and had started surveying other routes in the Middle East. In 1928 the decision was taken by the British government to lay the emphasis for Imperial Airways' future operations firmly on the Empire rather than in Europe 42. The Depression which hit the West the following year and which brought strong pressure for the government to restrict public expenditure, merely accelerated the process - new air routes to the Empire would give tangible expression to the new creed of "imperial preference"43.

Having reached Basra in southern Iraq, Imperial's next task was to traverse the stretch of territory eastwards to Karachi, establishing a line of refueling stations and acquiring the necessary rights through Persia. The Basra-Karachi link was planned to open in 1927, however the Persian government, apparently under pressure from the German Junkers company, reneged on its agreement to allow the British use of the Gulf coastal route and delayed a through service until 1929 44. Even then permission was only granted for three years - thereafter the airline would have to use a wholly untried corridor through central Persia. This corridor proved unacceptable and as a result Imperial abandoned Persia in 1932 and switched to the Arabian side of the Gulf between Kuwait and Oman. The next step was to connect Karachi with the Indian capital, Delhi, but now new nationalist obstacles presented themselves as the Indian government demanded that the route be flown by an Indian airline. For a year the Indian State Air Service (ISAS) flew the service using chartered Imperial Airways DH-Hercules aircraft, but this was closed and no through British service across India was operated again until the summer of 1933 when Indian Trans-Continental Airlines (formed with 51% Imperial Airways ownership and two AW Atalanta aircraft) began flying the route Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, later extended to Rangoon (October 1933) and Singapore (December) 45. By this stage Dutch rivals KLM was already operating a service across India and carrying the bulk of the airmail to Singapore. KLM's services were both faster and cheaper than Imperial's and the latter received a great deal of criticism for the fact. However with faster planes (DC 2s in 1934) and being unencumbered with the need to drop off and pick up mail at numerous intermediate points, the Dutch airline did have an advantage on their route, which was dedicated to the single objective of reaching Batavia (now Jakarta) with the fastest possible service. What is less easily explained is the obstructive attitude shown by the British and Indian authorities to KLM's original plans in 1929 to start a service from Amsterdam to Batavia; for the British it was unthinkable that the Dutch should provide an air service to India before they did and accordingly they delayed approval for KLM to overfly India 46.

The final link in Imperial's Asian service was to Australia. Because the Australian government insisted on an Australian airline flying the remaining stretch between Singapore and Brisbane, Imperial was obliged in early 1934 to form another airline partnership, this time with Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (Qantas) to form Qantas Empire Airways (QEA) 47. The route was opened for regular mail traffic in December 1934, thus completing what was then the longest air route in the world (London-Brisbane) -a marathon 12-day experience for passengers covering nearly 13,000 miles. The Singapore-Brisbane link remained a QEA monopoly until the Empire flying boats entered service at the time of the EAMS in 1938. These services were an endurance test that over-stretched Imperial Airways from the start. As it was plagued by aircraft shortages, a high proportion of the EAMS services to Australia arrived late at their destination 48.

The other branch to Imperial Airways' Empire network extended south from its Cairo hub across eastern Africa to Cape Town and, as with its Asian route it faced problems not only with hazardous conditions but also political obstacles born out of nationalist protectionism. The route had been developed in the mid- 1920s by the RAF and also by Sir Alan Cobham, whose airline Imperial bought in 1931. The colonial governments in Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika and Northern Rhodesia built the necessary airstrips with some help from the British taxpayer, and in 1932 a regular air mail and passenger service was begun. However in 1934 the Afrikaner government refused to renew Imperial's airmail contract and demanded that it terminate its service in Southern Rhodesia, whence South African Airways would carry the mail to the Cape. A compromise was reached whereby Imperial flew as far as Johannesburg, but Imperial drew the conclusion that flying boats, hugging the coast would serve the aims of the EAMS better and avoid tiresome air rights conflicts. To a greater extent than in Asia, the creation of Imperial's African network was helped by co-operation with local private airlines such as Wilson Airways, which was based in Nairobi. After 1937 when Imperial was using flying boats down the coast, Wilson Airways filled in the gaps westwards into Northern and Southern Rhodesia. In 1936 Imperial also opened up a West African spur from Khartoum to Lagos, in partnership with the shipping line Elder Dempster 49.

Strangely enough, Imperial Airways' greatest air rights struggles in its route development programme were neither in Asia nor Africa but much closer to home in Europe. When Imperial's planes left Croydon airport they only flew as far as Basle before the passengers had to disembark and take a train to Genoa because the Italians did not allow Imperial's aircraft to enter Italy from France. From Genoa they traveled by flying boat to Naples, Athens, Tobruk (in Italian Cyrenaica) and Alexandria. The Italians also insisted that an Italian airline fly the same route and in 1929 they went a step further and suggested that traffic be pooled on the route between the two companies. Imperial rejected this and was forced to abandon the Italian peninsula for a while and use a difficult central European route through Budapest and Salonica before a rapprochement was reached in 1931. This time however the Italians insisted that the route be changed to one which connected Milan and Brindisi. Imperial did not like this alternative because the Italian section from Milan would have been wholly uneconomic and the winter weather around Milan was notoriously bad. After considering its options, Imperial finally decided that conveying its passengers by train all the way from Paris to Brindisi was the best solution 50. And so for the next five years until 1936 Imperial Airways' passengers for India actually spent most on their journey through Europe on the train.

The last great frontier for civil aviation was the North Atlantic and after 1930 both Imperial Airways and Pan American Airways became interested in a trans-Atlantic service, which apart from its importance for the mail, had the potential to be the most profitable passenger route of all. The trouble was that neither side, particularly the British, had the aircraft to cross the Atlantic with an economic payload. And because Pan American was tied to an agreement with the British they could not start any services before their weaker partner was ready. No progress was made until June 1937 when a joint service between New York and Bermuda was opened with flying boats. In the meantime the British tried several ingenious but ultimately fruitless approaches to crossing the Atlantic, including in-flight refueling, and "composite" aircraft (the bizarre Mayo Maia-Mercury). What was needed however was an aircraft with sufficiently powerful engines to fly easily between Ireland and Newfoundland with passengers and mail. In the summer of 1937 the Empire flying boat Caledonia flew westwards to the United States, passing the Pan American Clipper III over the Atlantic flying in the opposite direction, but still no services were established. By 1938 the demands of the rearmament program had practically eclipsed further efforts in civil aviation and the prototype of the de Havilland Albatross, which had been planned as an Atlantic mail plane, crashed during trials 51. Only in the summer of 1939 did the British finally relent on their agreement with the Americans and allow a trans- Atlantic service to Southampton to be opened by Pan American, which now had the powerful Boeing 314 flying boat at its disposal.

Aircraft Procurement 

The earliest British civil aircraft were wood and fabric biplanes, little more than converted bombers. In 1919 a commonly-used type such as the DH 4 had a single Rolls Royce engine, cruised at about 90 mph and carried two passengers. Nearly all types had water-cooled engines which contributed to the large number of forced landings common at the time. They were rudimentary and slow, and their technical limitations eliminated any possibility of profitable airline operation. As one authority has put it, "aircraft were so unsafe and unreliable and were so limited in their operations by unfavorable weather that they were incapable of competing with surface transport..." 52. During the 1920s the situation improved, purpose-built transport aircraft were produced, and the switch was made by Imperial Airways to more reliable air-cooled engines. But passengers still had to be as resilient as they were rich. According to a contemporary guide for airline operators, two cabins were recommended; "seasick persons being placed in one cabin .... a spacious washroom is desirable where a special vomiting basin should be provided ... disinfectants should be carried as the smell of airsickness may induce this malady in persons otherwise immune. Disinfectants are particularly desirable when the results of sickness are on the floor of the cabin 53. Thanks to the lack of cabin pressurization and sound-proofing (ear plugs were necessary to withstand the noise of the engines), and the primitive heating and ventilation equipment (if a passenger opened the window he or she was likely to be poisoned by the exhaust fumes from the central engine on tri-motored aircraft), many passengers staggered off the plane at their destination, pale-faced and nauseous.

In the 1930s the pace of development in civil aircraft construction increased, but in Britain its seems to have been rather slow. The Handley Page HP 42 (Hannibal Class) introduced by Imperial Airways in 1931 was barely 20 mph faster than Handley Page's 0/400 bomber of the First World War. Britain had allowed itself to be overtaken in aircraft manufacturing by Germany and, particularly, by the United States. By 1935 the Douglas DC-2 was a far superior aircraft to the HP 42 or any other British airliner; it was faster, and though less than half the size, was much more economical to operate. A question that needs to be asked therefore is: to what degree was Imperial Airways responsible for the comparative backwardness of British civil aircraft production between the wars ? Given that Imperial's founding statute obliged it to buy British aircraft and engines, could it have done more to encourage technological advance in the aircraft industry ? Two points should be made here. Firstly Imperial Airways' aircraft were purpose-built for its operational requirements, which made them difficult to sell to a broader market, and secondly it ordered relatively few of them - certainly in comparison with American practice in the 1930s 54. The result for Imperial was high costs and continual aircraft shortages. For the British manufacturers, the generally parsimonious approach to aircraft procurement deprived them of the economies of scale that their American rivals enjoyed and denied them the resources and stimulus that would have been necessary to "enable its many gifted designers to produce path-breaking large civil airliners" 55.

However Imperial Airways was not entirely to blame for the weaknesses of the British aircraft industry. Because the British Air Ministry was chiefly concerned with sponsoring military aircraft, the slow movement towards all- metal construction and streamlining in civil transports may have resulted from their late adoption in the RAF. And the suspicion that part of the problem lay with the Air Ministry was strengthened by a government report in 1938 that described the department responsible for civil aircraft procurement as understaffed and insufficiently experienced 56. However Imperial's restrictive focus on the Empire routes was a major factor. Once the airline had given up all but a few token services in the competitive European market, it no longer required the most modern landplanes, and could rely on aircraft like the HP 42 and HP 45. This huge 4-engined biplane, of which eight were built (in two versions for European and Empire operations), served the airline throughout the Thirties. The Empire version conveyed its 24 passengers in an ornate cabin resembling an Edwardian drawing room, complete with chintz curtains. But it was slow, still used wood for large parts of its wing and fuselage, and, as a biplane with a large fixed undercarriage, it ignored the advantages to be gained from streamlining. The manufacturer blamed Imperial: "the basic requirements specified by the operators as to performance, and in particular speed, did not take into account the aerodynamic advantages which could have been obtained had a higher speed been specified. As the Hannibal (HP 42) was only required to fly at 100 mph there was little to be gained in reduced drag by the elimination of exterior excrescences. Biplane struts, biplane construction and a fixed undercarriage were therefore accepted with equanimity" 57. Even as late as 1935, by which time European airlines such as KLM and Swissair were flying the DC-2, Imperial refused to abandon the biplane and brought into service two (just two !) Short S 17 Scylla biplanes which closely resembled the HP 42.

After the biplanes, the next stage in Imperial Airways' aircraft procurement history was a logical step in its Empire role: it would free itself from the geographical and political difficulties of intermediate landing stages and use flying boats. Flying boats had already been in use by the airline for several years when in March 1933 the board proposed to the Air Ministry a major capital investment in new aircraft to enable the full working of the Empire Air Mail Scheme (EAMS) 58. Imperial opted for flying boats partly because of the difficulty of maintaining airstrips in remote regions along their routes. The imagined cost of long runways was seen as a limiting factor in land plane development and the unlimited take-off length for flying boats meant that bigger aircraft could be used; thus the idea was born that flying-boats were the key to greater size. When the British government decided to go ahead with EAMS in 1934, 26 four-engined Short Empire "C" Class S23 was ordered straight from the drawing board and entered service from 1937. The Empire flying boats gave good service and enjoyed a reputation for great comfort among passengers. However, during three years of operations 28 per cent of the boats became total losses due to accidents, most of which would have been only minor had landplanes been involved 59. Moreover there were serious operational drawbacks. Terminal delays with flying boats could be very long when take-off was delayed by rough seas. Maintenance was more complex and expensive than on landplanes because salt water inevitably got into the engines, and flying boats could not be adapted to the most aerodynamic shape, because of their large hulls and stabilizers.

The flying boat program instigated by Imperial Airways had a impromptu nature which seems odd in retrospect. There was probably sufficient time to build airstrips for landplanes if work had begun in 1934. KLM's Asian route which paralleled that of the Empire boats for most of the way to Australia with Douglas landplanes was much faster and had fewer losses than Imperial, although it should be remembered that the Dutch did not have to make as many stops en route as their British colleagues. Imperial's move to flying boats in the mid- 1930s seems backward today, although several other important airlines, including Pan American, Deutsche Luft Hansa, and Air France, were also using them. The point to remember perhaps is that as long as Imperial was compelled to buy British and its management remained dedicated to the commercial objectives of profitability and share-holder value, flying boats were a logical solution to the challenge of building the EAMS and its Empire network. Thus the airline's aircraft procurement policy was a direct consequence of its route policy: if its task was to carry the mail and a few intrepid bureaucrats to colonial outposts in Asia and Africa, then well-appointed flying boats were the most cost-effective solution.

The requirement for modern landplanes was recognized with the appearance of British Airways after 1935 and the need for a better aircraft in the competitive European market. By 1938 Imperial had taken (overdue) delivery of the Armstrong Whitworth AW27 Ensign, a four-engined monoplane with daytime seating for 40 passengers. Yet despite its promising specifications, this was a disappointing aircraft. It was overweight and underpowered, and its Armstrong Siddeley Tiger engines, which could not be started in cold weather, had to be replaced at great expense with American-made Wright Cyclones 60. Another promising aircraft was the elegant de Havilland DH.91 Albatross, but this too was plagued with problems including the unfortunate tendency of its retractable undercarriage to collapse on landing. In the last year before the war both the Ensign and Albatross took over the London-Paris route from the elderly HP 45s, but they were beset with accidents and withdrawals. In the end their development was overtaken by the demands of the war; they were part of "a lost generation" in British aircraft development the effects of which were to be acutely felt in the post-war years 61.

The Origins of BOAC, 1935-1939 

Imperial Airways' monopoly on subsidized international air transport continued without change until 1935. However Imperial's were not the only air services flown in Britain in the early 1930s : a number of independent domestic airlines sprang up. Hillman Airways began an air service between Romford and Clacton in 1932 and the following year started flying to Paris and Brussels in direct competition with Imperial Airways. Others joined Hillman from 1933 onwards. Scotland with its mountains and islands, was particularly promising to aviators because surface transport there had always been so difficult. Scheduled air services began in 1933, when Scottish Air Ferries started services from Glasgow to Campbeltown and Islay, and Highland Airways from Inverness to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands - the latter a typical private venture by one man (Captain Fresson) and his aeroplane 62.

Meanwhile a interdepartmental committee in Whitehall was deliberating on British air services in Europe. Under the chairmanship of Sir Warren Fisher, this committee came to the conclusion that to restore Britain's air transport position in Europe it was necessary to return to the pre- 1924 philosophy of subsidizing competing carriers. A second airline would receive government support to develop services in Europe where Imperial's performance -or rather, lack of it - was the target of mounting public criticism. This second airline was British Airways Ltd, which was formed in November 1935 from the merger of several smaller operators, including Hillman and Highland Airways, and drew on the financial backing of Whitehall Securities and the banking interests of the d'Erlanger family 63.

British Airways began operating from Heston airport (later from Gatwick) at the beginning of 1936 and set about developing European routes north of a line between London and Berlin. The government gave it an air mail contract and a £20,000 subsidy, and also granted it the right to develop routes to West Africa and South America. Its initial surveys were on the route from London through Amsterdam, Hamburg and Copenhagen to Sweden - continental destinations which were totally dependent on Dutch, German and Scandinavian airlines. To secure the mail contract, British Airways had to obtain a revision in Imperial's exclusive right to government subsidies, but in the event Imperial was more than ready to hand over the northern European routes and the government agreed to the subsidy after the Fisher Committee had made its recommendation 64. British Airways expanded rapidly in northern Europe and in 1937 it pioneered direct night airmail services to Berlin and Sweden, the former shared with Deutsche Luft Hansa (DLH). By 1939 it had opened a through passenger service to Berlin and Warsaw. Its most controversial move was to offer services to Paris in competition with Imperial Airways, a return to the subsidized competition which had been a hallmark of the pre-1924 days. Its services to Cologne, Hanover and Berlin were operated in competition with DLH for whom Imperial Airways had remained an agent since 1926. Thus the paradoxical situation arose that while Imperial took advertisements for DLH in its company journal, it refused to take those of British Airways, thereby unleashing a storm of protest in parliament against its unpatriotic behaviour and generally worsening its image in the country as a whole 65.

A important provision agreed at the time when British Airways received its subsidy was that within a year of its creation the new airline would be using aircraft capable of flying at 200 mph. This condition virtually ensured that British Airways would be relying on American or German equipment as no British civil aircraft before 1938 which could fly that fast. In the spring of 1937 Lockheed Electras were acquired and immediately cut the travel time to Scandinavia and Paris. In the latter case British Airways flew to the French capital in ninety minutes compared to Imperial's one hundred and forty, and with this time-saving the company was soon offering four Paris flights a day. In September 1938 British Airways' provided its most famous service when one of its Lockheed Super Electra aircraft flew Neville Chamberlain to see Hitler during the Munich Crisis. The Prime Minister's use of an American aircraft prompted more criticism in Parliament and a feeling of wounded pride that there was no suitable British aircraft in which he could make the trip to meet the German dictator 66.

This atmosphere of censure and condemnation was the background to attacks on Imperial Airways in parliament in late 1937 and early 1938. The substance of these attacks, which were taken up vociferously in the press, fell under three headings: aircraft procurement and the airline's alleged technological backwardness, labour relations and the airline's public image. Increasingly the complaint was heard that British aircraft were old-fashioned and embarrassingly slow. The spectacle of the elderly HP 42 biplanes landing at European airports amidst the modern monoplanes of its competitors was humiliating. In 1936 Swissair had joined KLM in operating the Douglas DC 3, and was beating Imperial Airways on the route between Basle and London by a time margin of 60 per cent. The airline's anomalous position as a publicly- supported private company made it a target for all sides of the political arena. Criticism that private dividends were being paid out of public subsidies increased and Imperial's secrecy about its accounts did not help matters. Its role as Britain's flag-carrier at a time of increased national rivalry, meant that its operations became closely linked in the public mind with the question of national prestige, and it was in this area that it appeared most vulnerable to censure. Parliamentary criticism was led by Robert Perkins, a Conservative MP and officer of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA). Perkins accused the airline of unfairly dismissing pilots, refusing pilots' requests for proper de-icing equipment and operating obsolete aircraft on its European routes. He described an occasion on which he had been waiting for an Imperial Airways aircraft to land at an airport on the Continent and referred to his feeling of shame as "a kind of Heath Robinson machine descends from the skies and everyone begins to laugh" 67.

Bearing in mind that Imperial Airways was introducing the AW Ensign and DH Albatross at the time, the charge that its aircraft were obsolete was not entirely fair, but the airline did appear to be unwilling to accept technical innovations if they involved any major new expenditure. They were slow to recognize the danger of icing on wings and in engine carburettors, and the advantages of blind approach aids such as the German Lorenz system. In April 1939 the Under-Secretary at the Air Ministry, Harold Balfour, noted that Imperial, "has been reluctant to adopt steps of technical advancement which have very often been in use by other countries for varying periods of time and varying degrees of success. If Imperials are ever told that this is their attitude ... a positive flood of technical objections and technical justification sweeps forward upon anyone who advocates some proposal which does not suit their commercial and operational convenience ..."68. Imperial's strife-prone labour relations, like their attitude to aircraft procurement, were another problem. The actual cause of Perkins's attack was the dismissal of a number of flying crew in 1937 and the belief that it was linked to their membership of BALPA, but the real mistake lay in Imperial's inept presentation of the incident. Imperial had dismissed six experienced pilots and navigators in October 1937, seemingly for making suggestions to the management on how to improve the airline's operations; unfortunately the dismissals and the introduction of new pay rates that appeared to lower the pilots' salary, coincided with a nine per cent dividend for Imperial's shareholders (see Table I) 69.

After a major debate in November 1937 on Imperial's problems, the government decided to appoint a special committee of investigation under the chairmanship of Lord Cadman from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The committee was not given formal terms of reference, but a wide franchise to investigate any area of Imperial's operations, and the role of the Air Ministry, which had been raised in the debate. Cadman's report was published in March 1938 and made harsh reading. It was unequivocal in its censure of both Imperial Airways and the Air Ministry, and the relationship which existed between them. The former, characterized by an arrogant management and oblivious to the wider needs of national policy, had not only "failed to co-operate fully with the Air Ministry, but has been intolerant of suggestion and unyielding in negotiation", while its attitude towards staff matters "left much to be desired". The managing director George Woods Humphery had taken "a commercial view of his responsibilities that was too narrow" and any immediate improvement in the situation was likely to "involve some change in directing personnel" 70. On the question of aircraft development the Air Ministry needed to adopt a much more dynamic and long-sighted approach. "If, as we assume, the Government desire this country to take a leading place in civil aviation," said Cadman, "much reorganization and additional expenditure of public money will be necessary" 71. Cadman recommended that Imperial Airways and British Airways receive a substantially greater subsidy in order that services could be operated to all the major European capitals and British prestige in Europe restored. The London-Paris service, where the two airlines were actually in competition with one another, was to be run by a new jointly-owned carrier 72. Cadman recommended subsidizing both airlines since "national prestige and the interests of British civil aviation require that first class air services, financially assisted by the State as necessary, should be established between London and all the principal capitals of Europe ... British civil aviation cannot compete with subsidised foreign competition unless it is comparably subsidised" 73 (emphasis - PL).

Thus the most striking thing about the Cadman Report is that it represented a clear change in policy only fifteen years after the Hambling Reportjiad recommended the creation of an airline to be run on purely commercial lines. Cadman reversed Hambling by accepting that a "commercial organisation" could not deliver all that was required of a national flag-carrier, indeed a privately-owned company could not be expected to carry the burden. As The Financial Times noted, civil aviation was now to pay more attention to carrying the flag and profitability would have to take second place 74. In a sense this policy shift was merely Britain coming into line with European practice. Other European flag-carriers established between 1920 and 1935 were all subsidized to some degree by their governments, but unlike the British, who seemed to see virtue in limiting state financing, other countries had lavished generous funds on their "chosen instruments". In retrospect Imperial Airways had always been in a difficult position. It was expected to be commercially successful, a prestige flag-carrier in Europe, a new force in communications to bind together the global interests of the British Empire - and do all this with British aircraft. With the exception of Europe, it came close to achieving these objectives, but it was let down by a number of weaknesses in management. In addition its relationship with the Air Ministry was poor, which was unfortunate given its dependence on the government for subsidies and aircraft procurement. But there was nothing lacking about Imperial's pioneering work in opening up the air routes to Africa and Australia, and whatever its shortcomings, other countries, with the exception of the United States, were not doing so much better. In the 1930s air transport was still a little-understood technology that posed a whole range of political and diplomatic questions, the answers to which have only been found slowly and after a great deal of trial and error over the course of the last seventy years. In the difficult days before the Second World War, with the need for rearmament dominating political thinking, misjudgments in policy were inevitable.

With Cadman's verdict on the table, major changes were forced on Imperial Airways in the summer of 1938. Sir Eric Geddes had already died the previous year and now Sir John Reith, long-time head of the BBC, was called upon to take over as a full-time head of the airline. It seems that Reith accepted the chairmanship of Imperial Airways on the condition that the airline be run like the BBC, i.e. publicly owned, but run commercially. His presence was undoubtedly a strong influence on the government's final decision to create a nationalized undertaking. The much-maligned managing director, George Woods Humphery, resigned at the same time as Reith's appointment and later emigrated, a bitter man, to the United States. His epitaph was summed up by the The Observer newspaper: "Mr Woods Humphery was charged with making commercial aviation pay, and he came nearer to succeeding than anybody else in the world. The new executive chairman Sir John Reith is charged with making British aviation technically advanced, no matter whether it pays or not" 75. The Conservative government of the time accepted most of the Cadman Report's recommendations, taking on board the important principle that air transport should be handled only by well-founded companies, not in direct competition with one another. However it did not accept the recommendation to further subsidize both Imperial and British Airways in their separate fields and decided to proceed instead with the creation of a single, publicly- owned chosen instrument 76. A few months after Reith's appointment, in November 1938, it announced that the two airlines would be amalgamated to form a new nationalized enterprise - the British Overseas Airways Corporation, universally known as BOAC.





1 .    The author would like to thank Mr. Ron Davies who made some helpful suggestions for improving an earlier draft of this paper.


2.    Harold Stannard, "Civil Aviation: An Historical Survey", in International Affairs, XXI, October 1945, n° 4, p. 497.


3.    Address to the Institute of Transport, 1923, quoted in Peter G. Masefield, "Our Future Lies in the Air", in Journal of the Institute of Transport, May 1967, p. 121.


4.    See David Edgerton, England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1991, p. 21.


5.    The first tentative steps in British air transport were actually mail flights undertaken in 1911. For a brief account of the industry before 1919, see Peter G. Masefield, "Some Economic Factors in Air Transport Operation", in Journal of the Institute of Transport, March 1951, p. 79-81.


6.    In an lecture by George Holt Thomas given in April 1 9 1 9 he stressed that "it is our intention in the enterprise I control to concentrate almost entirely upon the carrying of mails rather than passengers". G. HOLT THOMAS, The Aeroplane in Industrial Development, a Lecture to the Industrial Reconstruction Council, London, 30 April 1919, p. 4. See also George HOLT THOMAS, Aerial Transport, London, 1920, p. 187.


7.    Air Ministry (Civil Aviation Department), Civil Aviation Statistics, 1919-1932, Annual Report of the Progress of Civil Aviation, 1920- 1921 .


8.    The wartime Civil Aerial Transport Committee [Cmd.9218, 1918] had recommended state support for civil aviation on the grounds that it would help maintain the Air Force. Subsequent backing for subsidies came in the Report on Government Assistance for the Development of Civil Aviation [Cmd. 770, 1920].


9.    Churchill was Secretary of State for War and Air until 1921. House of Commons Debates, 5. Series, Vol.126, 11 March 1920, c.1622. His oft-quoted remark should be set in context : state involvement in British business had been rare and although the First World War had brought a greater degree of involvement in the economy, much of this interventionism was reversed after 1918. William Ashworth, The State in Business 1945 to the mid-1980s, London, 1991, p. 1-3.


10. Robin Higham, "Britain's Overseas Airlines, 1918-1939", in Shell Aviation News, December 1959, n° 258, p. 3.


11.    British Marine Air Navigation received only a very small subsidy. P. Masefield, "Some Economic Factors", p. 82. For Daimler, see Eric Birkhead, "Daimler Airway", in Journal of Transport History, Is' Series, 3, 1958, n°4, p. 195-200.


12.    Details of the early subsidy schemes can be found in R.W. Spurgeon, "Subsidy in Air Transport", in Journal of the Institute of Transport, November 1956, p. 16.


13.    Air Ministry (Civil Aviation Department), Civil Aviation Statistics, 1919-1932.


14.    For an account of the troubles which faced the early airlines, Eric Birkhead, "The financial failure of British air transport companies 1919-1924", in Journal of Transport History, lsl Series, 4,1960, n° 3, p. 133-145.


15.    According to Peter Masefield, total operating costs of the private operating companies between August 1919 and March 1924 averaged around 110 pence per capacity ton-mile, against a revenue of 56.0 pence per ton-mile : "Some Economic Factors", p. 82.


16.    Robin HlGHAM, Britain's Imperial Air Routes 1918 to 1939, London, 1960, p. 53. See also Peter W. BROOKS, "The Development of Air Transport", in Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, 1967, n° 1, p. 164.


17. Civil Air Transport Subsidies Committee, Report on Government Financial Assistance to Civil Air Transport Companies, (the Hambling Report), Cmd. 1811, 1923, par. 15-16.


18.    R.W. SPURGEON, "Subsidy", p. 16.


19.    A.J. QUIN-HARKIN, "Imperial Airways, 1924-40", in Journal of Transport History, 1st Series,!, 1954, n° 4, p. 202.


20.    Imperial Airways Limited, Initial Prospectus, 30 May 1924; also E. BlRKHEAD, "Financial Failure", p. 137.


21.    John PUDNEY, The Seven Skies. A Study ofBOAC and its Forerunners since 1919, London, 1959, p. 87.


22.    R. HlGHAM, Imperial Air Routes, p. 76.


23.    R. HlGHAM, Imperial Air Routes, p. 80. Woods Humphery offered £100 per year plus a mileage rate, the pilots wanted £450 a year plus an HOUR rate, as they had been accustomed to at the constituent companies; they did not want mileage payments. J. Pudney, Seven Skies, p. 91.


24.    Geoffrey DORMAN, in The Aeroplane, 2 September 1925, p. 296.


25.    G.E. WOODS HUMPHERY, A Review of Air Transport, Lecture to the Institute of Transport, 13 February 1933, p. 3.


26.    In the 1930 Annual Report, chairman Geddes explained, "that it is not in your interests for me to make public such figures because of the erroneous deductions which will inevitably be drawn from them, deductions which will all be unjustifiably against your own fair appraisement of the value of your property". I.e. subsidy information was withheld in case it adversely affected the company's share price. Imperial Airways, Chairman's Speech at the Sixth Ordinary General Meeting, London, 29 September 1930, p. 7.


27.    Imperial Airways, Annual Report and Accounts, Year ended March 1935.


28.    Imperial Airways Ltd, Report of the Annual General Meeting, 1935, p. 21.


29.    An additional £2.49 million spread over 10 years was provided and the government received 25,000 deferred £1 shares in the company. R.W. SPURGEON, "Subsidy", p. 17.


30.    Henri BOUCHE, Economics of Air Transport, Report to the Air Transport Co-operation Committee, Geneva, League of Nations, 1935.


31.    Ten seats was typical of passenger airliners in the early 1930s and other airlines had aircraft with even fewer, e.g. the famous Fokker F.VII.


32.    Public Record Office (PRO), avia.2/636, Memorandum from Sir Eric Geddes, Imperial Airways Chairman, to H.M. Government, "Future of Civil Air Communication of the Empire", 1933, Appendix A, p. 6.


33.    Air Ministry Directorate of Civil Aviation, Annual Report on the Progress of Civil Aviation (hereafter ARPCA), London, HMSO, 1937, p. 12-13, 1938, p. 7-8.


34.    R. HlGHAM, Imperial Air Routes, p. 224.


35.    Imperial Airways, About the First Winter Air Cruise, November 1927.


36.    Kenneth HUDSON, Air Travel: a Social History, Bath, 1972, p. 34.


37.    ARPCA, 1933, p. 9; ARPCA, 1938, p. 13.


38.    ARPCA, 1924-1925, p. 7-8.


39.    ARPCA, 1927, p. 4.


40.    PRO, AlR.5/907, Imperial Air Communications, Special Sub-Committee, 17 November 1926.


41.    Keith Granville, "The United Kingdom's Part in the Development of Air Transport of other Nations", in Institute of Transport Journal, May 1962, p. 297-303.


42.    Air Subsidies to Civil Air Services, Cmd. 3143, 1928, Note by the Secretary of State for Air on the principal provisions agreed to be embodied in a contract with Imperial Airways, Ltd.


43.    I.M. DRUMMOND, Imperial Economic Policy 1917-1939, London, 1974, p. 426.


44.    The RAF had prevented Junkers from establishing an air service in 1925 between Baghdad and Teheran, where they had a base. R. HlGHAM, Imperial Air Routes, p. 122-126.


45.    Indian Trans-Continental Airlines only flew as far as Rangoon. In March 1936 a spur was opened from Penang (north of Singapore) to Hong Kong.


46.    For the details see Marc L.J. Dierikx, "Struggle for Prominence: Clashing Dutch and British Interests on the Colonial Air Routes, 1918-42", in Journal of Contemporaiy History, 26, 1991, p. 333-351.


47.    Imperial took 49 % of the stock, as did Qantas, the remaining 2 % being held by a so-called umpire who would adjudicate conflict between the airlines. Imperial Airways' (later BOAC's) investment in Qantas was maintained until 1 947 when the Australian government bought the entire capital of the airline. For recent research of the subject see Leigh Edmonds, "Australia, Britain and the Empire Air Mail Scheme, 1934-38", in Journal of Transport History, 3rd Series, 20, September 1999, n° 2, p. 91-106.


48.    ARPCA, 1938, p. 8, 12; R. HlGHAM, Imperial Air Routes, p. 235.


49.    Imperial Airways Ltd., Report of the Annual General Meeting, 1937, p. 28-29.


50.    H. BURCHALL, The Political Aspect of Commercial Air Routes, Lecture to the Royal Central Asian Society, 23 November 1932, p. 10-14.


51.    It entered service for Imperial Airways in Europe in 1939.


52.    P.W. BROOKS, "The Development of Air Transport", in Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, 1967, n° 1, p. 164.


53.    Safety and Accommodation in European Passenger Planes, No. 3, New York, Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics Inc., 1928, p. 29-30.


54.    Of the HP 42/45 types only eight were built, and a similar number of AW Atalantas, only the Short Empire "C" Class flying boats numbered more than a dozen.


55.    Peter FEARON, "The British Airframe Industry and the State 1918-1935", in Economic History Review, 27, May 1974, p. 249-251.


56.    Directorate of Operational Services and Intelligence, Cmd. 5864, 1938.


57.    Sir Frederick Handley Page, "The Influence of Military Aviation on Civil Air Transport", in Journal of the Institute of Transport, May 1953, p. 110.


58.    PRO, AVIA.2/636, Memorandum from the Board of Imperial Airways, Future of Civil Air Communications of the Empire, to Air Ministry, 28 March 1933, SAD/EGS/593.


59.    PRO, AVIA. 2/2467, Relative Advantages of landplanes and Flying Boats in large sizes, 1943. The high degree of vulnerability of flying boats was not, of course, confined to Imperial Airways. Pan American, for example, lost all three of its Martin M 130s.


60.    PRO, AVIA. 2/2068, Burkett to Hildred AM, 21 December 1938; also The Times, 16 January 1939.


61.    Peter W. BROOKS, "Problems of Short-Haul Air Transport", in Journal of Royal Aeronautical Society, June 1951, p. 450.


62.    For the history of Highland Airways, see A.J. ROBERTSON, "The New Road to the Isles: Highland Airways and Scottish Airways 1933-1939", in Journal of Transport History, 7, Sept. 1986, p. 48-60.


63.    See Robin HlGHAM, "British Airways Ltd., 1935-1940", in Journal of Transport History, 4, 1959, p. 113.


64.    ARPCA, 1936, p. 4-5, 58.


65.    ARPCA, 1937, p. 73; R. HlGHAM, "British Airways", p. 115-118.


66.    House of Commons Debates, vol. 342, 5.s, 1459-60, 22 November 1938; also 418, 30 November 1938 and 1001-2, 6 December 1938.


67.    House of Commons Debates, vol. 329, 1937/38, col. 431.


68.    PRO, AVIA. 2/1493, Imperial Airways, De-icing equipment/constant speed airscrews. Minute USoS, 3 April 1939. It took ten parliamentary questions to get even basic de-icing equipment installed in Imperial's aircraft in 1937: HlGHAM, Imperial Air Routes, p. 266-67.


69.    The Economist, 6 November 1937, p. 255; The Times, 11 November 1937.


70.    Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Civil Aviation, The Cadman Report, [Cmd. 5685,1938], par. 46.


71.    Cadman Report, par. 7.


72.    Cadman Report, par. 4L


73.    Cadman Report, par. 34-35.


74.    The Financial Times, 5 November 1938, Comments on Cadman.


75.    The Observer, 14 June 1938.


76.    For the details of BOAC's creation, see Peter J. LYTH, "The changing role of government in British civil air transport", in Robert MlLLWARD & John SINGLETON, eds., The Political Economy of Nationalisation in Britain, 1920-1950, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 65-87.




Source:
Peter Lyth   lien Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire  lien   Year   2000   lien Volume   78   lien Issue   78-3-4   lien pp. 865-887

TOP



Recherche personnalisée sur les pages de Henri Eisenbeis alias lepeps
Custom Search on the pages of Henri Eisenbeis alias lepeps
Loading