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Imperial Airways

From Academic Kids

Template:British Airways Imperial Airways was an early British commercial air transport company, operating from 1924 to 1939.

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 aircraft), 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.

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.

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 Netherlands East Indies, and took 26 days in total to reach Sydney. The development of four-engined airliners boosted the range of services, in 1932 the service to Africa was extended to Cape Town.

In Australia in 1934 Imperial and Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd) formed Qantas Empire Airways Limited to extended services in Southeast Asia. But it was not until 1937 with the Short Empire flying boats that Imperial could offer an 'all air' service from Southampton to the Empire. The journey the Cape consisted of flights to Marseilles, Rome, Brindisi, Athens, Alexandria, Khartoum, Port Bell, Kisumu and onwards by land-based craft to Nairobi, Mbeya and eventually Cape Town. Survey flights were also made across the Atlantic and to New Zealand. By mid-1937 Imperial had completed its thousandth service to the Empire.

Speed Wings Over the World, statue on a portal above the Empire Terminal's main entrance; by Eric Broadbent
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Speed Wings Over the World, statue on a portal above the Empire Terminal's main entrance; by Eric Broadbent

The Empire Air Mail Programme began in July 1937, delivering anywhere for 1 d./oz. By mid-1938 a hundred tons of mail had been delivered to India and a similar amount to Africa. In the same year, construction was started on the Empire Terminal, designed by A. Lakeman and with a statue by Eric Broadbent, Speed Wings Over the World gracing the portal above the main entrance. The terminal provided train connections to flying boats at Southampton and to the since closed Croydon Airport. The terminal operated as recently as 1980.

Compared to other operators (Air France, KLM, Deutsche Luft Hansa) it was lagging behind in Europe and it was suggested that all European operations be handed over to British Airways Ltd (founded in 1935) which had more modern aircraft and better organization. However in November 1939 both Imperial and British Airways Ltd were merged into a new state-owned national carrier: British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

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