August 25, 2009

British Airways Turns 90

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British Airways 747-400Photo by lrargerich

British Airways 747-400 (Photo by lrargerich)

The earliest forerunner of one of today’s leading airlines introduced service 90 years ago today, using a World War I surplus bomber to move a single passenger, a delivery of leather and a brace of geese across the English Channel.

For a £21 fare (roughly £1,700/US$3,400 in 2009 currency), a two seat De Havilland Airco 4A (registration G-EAJC) owned by the startup Air Transport & Travel Ltd lifted off with its sole passenger from Hounslow Heath in London. Two and a half hours later, the plane touched down at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, completing not only the first commercial flight between the two European metropolises, but the first regularly scheduled international service anywhere on the planet.

Today, Hounslow Heath is covered by the runways of Heathrow Airport, and Air Transport & Travel has, after a number of failures, mergers and transformations, evolved into British Airways, one of the world’s great carriers.

Business Traveler has a great timeline of the company’s evolution, but here is the Cliffs Notes version:

1921: Aircraft Transport and Travel is acquired by Daimler Air Hire, which changes name to Daimler Airway
1924: Daimler joins consortium with Handley Page, Instone and British Marine Navigation Company to form Imperial Airways.

1936: competing operator British Airways Ltd. is formed out of merger by three smaller carriers.

1940: UK government nationalizes Imperial Airways and British Airways, forming British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

1946: British European Airways (BEA) is formed as an offshoot of BOAC to operate domestic and European service.

1960: First 707 enters service.

1970: First 747 order.

1974: The government merges BEA and BOAC to create British Aiways.

1976: Concorde service begins on London-New York and London-Singapore.

1979: Newly empowered conservative government announces its desire to privatize British Airways.

1987: British Airways is formally privatized.

2003: Concorde service ends.

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