Imperial Airways

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Imperial Airways was the early British commercial long range air transport company, operating from 1924 to 1939 and serving parts of Europe but especially the Empire routes to South Africa, India and the Far East. There were local partnership companies; Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd) in Australia and TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Ltd) in New Zealand.



The establishment of Imperial Airways occurred in the context of British hopes of prolonging and modernizing maritime empire by using a new transport technology that would facilitate settlement, colonial government and trade. The launch of the airline followed a burst of air route survey in the British Empire after the First World War, and after some experimental (and sometimes dangerous) long-distance flying to the margins of Empire.[1]


Created following the advice of the government Hambling Committee in 1923 — that the main existing aircraft companies should be merged to create a company which would be strong enough to develop Britain's external air services — and offered a £1m subsidy over ten years if they merged. Imperial Airways Limited was formed in March 1924 from the British Marine Air Navigation Company Ltd (three flying boats), the Daimler Airway (five aircraft), Handley Page Transport Ltd (three aircraft) and the Instone Air Line Ltd (two aircraft). The land operations were based at Croydon Airport to the south of London. IAL immediately discontinued its predecessors' service to points north of London, the airline not being interested in serving what they regarded as the 'provinces'.

The first commercial flight was in April 1924, when a daily London-Paris service was opened. Additional services to other European destinations were started throughout the summer. The first new airliner was commissioned by Imperial Airways in November 1924. In the first year of operation the company carried 11,395 passengers and 212,380 letters. In April 1925, The Lost World (a recent blockbuster film) was shown to the passengers on the London-Paris route. This was the first time that a film had been screened for passengers on a plane.

The extension of service to the British Empire (Empire Services) was not begun until 1927 when, with the addition of six new aircraft, a service was instituted from Cairo to Basra. but the first service from London for Karachi did not start until 1929 using newly purchased Short S.8 Calcutta flying boats, even then the passengers were transported by train from Paris to the Mediterranean where the Short flying boats were. In February 1931 a weekly service between London and Tanganyika was started as part of the proposed route to Cape Town and in April an experimental London-Australia air mail flight took place; the mail was transferred at the Dutch East Indies, and took 26 days in total to reach Sydney. The purchase of eight Handley Page HP.42 four-engined airliners boosted the range of services, in 1932 the service to Africa was extended to Cape Town. Typically, services were inaugurated with considerable ceremony and publicity.[1]

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