Air Travel

RETURN TO THE LOBBY                                                                                                                                                                                                           THE OCEAN LINER VIRTUAL MUSEUM

The arrival of air travel and the impact of the containerisation revolution on the nature of shipping rendered the ocean liner obsolete in the 1960s and 70s. Air travel replaced their scheduled passenger voyages, while container ships fundamentally changed the nature of the shipping industry and replaced the cargo operations associated with ocean liners. As a result the ocean liners had to adapt or disappear forever and they evolved into full time cruise liners and thus was born the modern cruise industry.

The first scheduled passenger airlines started operation in the 1920s and the oldest airlines still in operation today include QANTAS, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Avianca, Czech Airlines and Mexicana. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines first flew in May 1920, while QANTAS started its operations in late 1920. In America the first airlines were American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Trans World Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Eastern Air Lines. In the 1920s Pan American World Airways was also launched with its fleet of flying boats linking Shanghai to Los Angeles and Boston to London. Thus Pan Am and Northwest Airlines were the only American airlines to go international before the 1940s.

Meanwhile the first countries in Europe to embrace air travel were Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain. KLM is the oldest airline in the world still with its original name. Like other major European airlines of the time (such as Air France and Imperial Airways / BOAC / British Airways) KLM's early growth depended heavily on the needs to service links with far-flung colonial possessions. France began an air mail service to Morocco in 1919 that was bought out in 1927, renamed Aeropostale, and injected with capital to become a major international carrier. In 1933, Aéropostale went bankrupt, was nationalized and merged with several other airlines into what became Air France. In Finland, the charter establishing Aero O/Y (now Finnair, one of the oldest still-operating airlines in the world) was signed in the city of Helsinki on the 12th September 1923. Its first flight was between Helsinki and Tallinn. Germany's Lufthansa began in 1926. Lufthansa, unlike most other airlines at the time, became a major investor in airlines outside of Europe, providing capital to Varig and Avianca. German airliners built by Junkers, Dornier and Fokker were the most advanced in the world at the time. The peak of German air travel came in the mid-1930s, when the Nazi regime approved the start of commercial Zeppelin service: the big airships were a symbol of industrial might, but the fact that they used flammable hydrogen gas raised safety concerns that culminated with the Hindenburg disaster of 1937. This rapidly brought an end to the age of airship travel. The United Kingdom's flag carrier during this early airline period was Imperial Airways, which became BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation.) in 1939. Imperial Airways used huge Handley-Page bi-planes for routes between London, the Middle East and India. Indeed posters of Imperial Airways and their Empire Air Services became synonomous with the heyday of the British Empire. BOAC then merged with BEA in the 1970s to form British Airways.

However despite these growing airlines it wasn't until after the Second World War that airlines began to rise to dominance on the transatlantic route and supersede the traditional ocean liners as the main means of global travel. In 1950s the De Havilland Comet became the world's first jet airliner to enter service and thus revolutionised air travel. On the 2nd May 1952 British Overseas Airways Corporation begins the world's first commercial jetliner service with the de Havilland DH 106 Comet 1. The 36-seat passenger jet flies from London, England to Johannesburg, South Africa, at speeds up to 500 miles per hour. Airlines around the world quickly beat a path to de Havilland's door. In 1958 The newly redesigned Comet 4 premieres with service between London and New York. De Havilland's new jet, though, can only accommodate 67 passengers, while the forthcoming Boeing 707 could seat 111. As a result Britain lost its dominance in commercial aviation to the Americans and Boeing rose to its supreme position as one of the world's leading commercial airliner manufacturers. Thus Boeing's first jetliner, the 707, made its inaugural flight for Pan Am, travelling from New York to Paris with 111 passengers. So Boeing took the lead in manufacturing passenger jets as commercial airlines discover that jets are more reliable and profitable than piston-driven planes. In 1959  Douglas Aircraft entered the jet manufacturing competition with its first jetliner, the DC-8, which begins commercial service for both United Airlines and Delta Air Lines. By the 1960s air travel had risen to dominance on the transatlantic routes rapidly displacing the traditional ocean liners. However these continued to survive for a time on the more far flung colonial mailship routes until the 1970s. 

In 1962 Britain and France signed the Anglo-French Supersonic Aircraft agreement, leading to development of the world's first supersonic passenger jet, the Concorde. On the 9th February 1969 the world's first widebody jet, the Boeing 747, made its inaugural flight. With seating for as many as 450 passengers, it was twice as large as any other Boeing jet and 80 percent bigger than the largest jet up until that time, the DC-8. On the 2nd March 1969 the French prototype of the Concorde makes its maiden flight in Toulouse, France. The flight, which only lasted 42 minutes, flew at subsonic speeds. The Concorde's first supersonic flight was to be on October 1, 1970. On the 21st January 1970 Pan Am inaugurated commercial service of the Boeing 747 with its New York to London flight. Later that year, TWA became the first American domestic airline to offer 747 service. The 747 was to transform the airline industry, allowing more people to fly further and more economically. Over the next three decades, the 747 would fly over 2.2 billion passengers. Thus in the 1970s and 80s the airliner age took over supremacy in international travel.

On the 21st January 1976
the Concorde officially began commercial service with an Air France flight from Paris to Buenos Aires and a British Airways flight from London to Bahrain. Production of the Concorde would end in 1979 when it became clear no other commercial airlines would purchase the supersonic jet. Only 16 are ever produced. But the Concorde brought the supersonic age of air travel and gave British Airways and Air France a new aura of glamour and elegance on the transatlantic service. Concorde was their flagship of the fleets and pride of the transatlantic service carrying filmstars and celebrities.

Sadly on the 25th July 2000
an Air France Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport killing all 109 aboard. Investigators believe the crash may have been caused by a thin metal strip on the runway. The metal debris is suspected of blowing one of the Concorde’s tires, which in turn ruptured the supersonic jet’s fuel tanks upon takeoff. It was the only crash of a Concorde in the legendary airliner's illustrious career. Sadly it was to spell the beginning of the end for this Queen of the Skies. In October 2003 British Airways retired its fleet of Concordes, ending three decades of supersonic transatlantic travel. Air France had already withdrawn their Concordes from commercial service on on the 31st May 2003. While major technical improvements were made to the Concorde after the July 25, 2000 crash, passenger levels never rebounded and the planes remained unprofitable. It was the end of a glorious supersonic era in transatlantic air travel. The Queen of the Skies was no more.


In recent the world's airlines have gradually formed alliances to allow cooperation on a more substantial level via code share agreements resulting in an extended and optimised airline network. It also results in cost reductions by sharing resources such as sales offices, maintenance facilities, operational facilities etc.  Today the main global airline alliances are:

Star Alliance

SkyTeam Alliance

Oneworld Alliance


Today the passenger airliner manufacturing industry is dominated by two main global players:

The Boeing Company

Airbus Industrie S.A.S.


Currently the world's major airports by passenger traffic per year are:

1.        Hartsfield - Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Atlanta, Georgia, USA)

2.        Chicago O'Hare International Airport (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

3.        London Heathrow Airport (London, England, UK)

4.        Tokyo International Airport (Tokyo, Japan)

5.        Los Angeles International Airport (Los Angeles, California, USA)

6.        Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (Paris, France)

7.        Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (Dallas, Texas, USA)

8.        Frankfurt Airport (Frankfurt, Germany)

9.        Beijing Capital International Airport (Beijing, China)

10.      Madrid Barajas International Airport (Madrid, Spain)

11.      Denver International Airport (Denver, Colorado, USA)

12.      Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

13.      John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York City, New York, USA)

14.      Hong Kong International Airport (Hong Kong, China)

15.       Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)

16.       George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston, Texas, USA)

17.        Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport (Phoenix, Arizona, USA)

18.        Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok, Thailand)

19.        Singapore Changi Airport (Singapore, Singapore)

20.        Orlando International Airport (Orlando, Florida, USA)


Currently in the UK the major airports by passenger traffic per year are:

1.       London Heathrow Airport

2.       London Gatwick Airport

3.       London Stansted Airport

4.       Manchester Airport

5.       London Luton Airport


Currently Europe's major airports by passenger traffic per year are:

1.      London Heathrow Airport (London, England, UK)

2.      Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport (Paris, France)

3.      Frankfurt International Airport (Frankfurt, Germany)

4.      Madrid Barajas International Airport (Madrid, Spain)

5.      Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)


Currently North America's major airports by passenger traffic per year are:

1.       Hartsfield - Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Atlanta, Georgia, USA)

2.       Chicago O'Hare International Airport (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

3.       Los Angeles International Airport (Los Angeles, California, USA)

4.       Dallas - Fort Worth International Airport (Dallas, Texas, USA)

5.       Denver International Airport (Denver, Colorado, USA)


Currently Africa's major airports by passenger traffic per year are:

1.          Cairo International Airport (Cairo, Egypt)

2.          Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg, South Africa)

3.          Cape Town International Airport (Cape Town, South Africa)

4.          Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport (Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt)

5.          Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)


Currently the Asia's major airports by passenger traffic per year are:

1.         Tokyo International Airport (Tokyo, Japan)

2.          Beijing Capital International Airport (Beijing, China)

3.          Hong Kong International Airport (Hong Kong, China)

4.          Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok, Thailand)

5.          Singapore Changi Airport (Singapore, Singapore)


Currently the major airlines in Europe by total scheduled passengers carried are:

1.           Air France - KLM Group

2.           Lufthansa Group

3.           British Airways - Iberia Group

4.            Ryanair

5.           easyJet

6.           SAS Group

7.            Air Berlin

8.            Alitalia

9.            Turkish Airlines

10.          Aeroflot


Currently the major airlines in North America by total scheduled passengers carried are:

1.           Delta Air Lines

2.           American Airlines

3.           United Airlines

4.           Southwest Airlines

5.            US Airways

6.            Continental Airlines

7.            Air Canada

8.            Alaska Airlines

9.            SkyWest Airlines

10.          AirTran Airways


Currently the major airlines in Africa by total scheduled passengers carried are:

1.           Ethiopian Airlines

2.           South African Airways

3.           EgyptAir

4.           Royal Air Maroc

5.           Tunisair

6.           Air Algerie

7.           Kenya Airways

8.           Atlas Blue

9.           Air Mauritius

10.         Libyan Airlines


Currently the major airlines in Asia by total scheduled passengers carried are:

1.           China Southern Airlines

2.            Japan Airlines Group

3.            All Nippon Airways Group

4.            Air China

5.             China Eastern Airlines

6.             Korean Air

7.             Thai Airways International

8.             Singapore Airlines

9.             Cathay Pacific Group

10.           Hainan Airlines Group


Currently the major airlines in the Middle East by total scheduled passengers carried are:

1.           Turkish Airlines

2.           Saudi Arabian Airlines

3.           Emirates Airline

4.           Royal Jordanian Airlines

5.           El Al

6.           Gulf Air

7.           Etihad Airways


Currently the major airlines in Oceania by total scheduled passengers carried are:

1.           Qantas

2.            Virgin Blue

3.            Air New Zealand Group

4.            Jetstar Airways

5.            Hawaiian Airlines

6.            Regional Express Airlines

7.            Air Niugini

8.            Air Pacific

9.            Air Tahiti

10.          Air Tahiti Nui

        (c) The AJN Transport Britain Collection 2009                                                                                                                                                                                 A Edward Elliott