100 Years of Commercial Aviation
Scheduled commercial aviation is celebrating 100 years of economic, social, and cultural benefits.
1914 - The first scheduled commercial airline flight – St Petersburg-Tampa Air Boat Line. Tony Jannus piloted the Benoist flying boat with Abram C. Pheil, the former Mayor of St Petersburg, as his only passenger. It is reported that Phiel was able to place a hefty order for his wholesale business before taking the return flight about an hour later.
1919 - The first KLM flight. The oldest carrier in the world still operating under its original name. It started operating scheduled flights between London and Amsterdam in 1920, a service that continues to this day. In its first year, KLM transported 345 passengers and around 25,000kg of mail and cargo, which is approximately the load carried by a single 747 flight today.
1922 - General Pedro Nel Ospina, then President of Colombia, used a SCADTA (later to become Avianca) aircraft to conduct official business for the first time. The geography of Latin America has made air transport vital to connectivity.
1923 - The Warsaw Convention was signed on 12 October 1929, coming into effect four years later. It mandated the passenger ticket and baggage check and helped to harmonize liability law, establishing the global nature of air travel.
1935 - The first Transpacific Clipper flight (between San Francisco and Manila) operated by Pan American World Airways. It took a week for the China Clipper to arrive in Manila via stops in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam, ultimately delivering more than 100,000 pieces of mail. It was meant to fly over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (then under construction) but the pilot realized the plane wouldn’t make it and managed to fly underneath
the bridge instead.
1936 - The Douglas DC-3, the “plane that changed the world”, enters service with American Airlines. It could fly New York-Chicago non-stop and was still being used into the 21st century.
It cost around $100,000 to buy in the 1930s and these versions still fetch a similar price today.
1939 - The first airport lounge, the American Airlines Admiral Club, opens at LaGuardia Airport, New York. Lounges have become synonymous with airlines offering their customers the opportunity for greater productivity, comfort, and convenience during their journey.
1944 - The Chicago Convention. There were 52 signatory states to the original Convention. It established ICAO and set up rules regarding aircraft, airspace, and safety that continue to serve the industry and its customers today.
1945 - IATA was founded in Havana, Cuba in 1945 and now represents some 240 airlines or 84% of scheduled traffic. It represents, leads, and serves the industry through such initiatives as the IATA Operational Safety Audit and Simplifying the Business. Its financial services form the backbone of the airline industry.
The first Springbok Service by South African Airways, connecting South Africa with Europe. The journey took three days but this was still considerably quicker than other modes of transportation. Such was the demand for a quick connection between Africa and Europe that the service went from weekly to six times a week.
1947 - Qantas flies the first Kangaroo route. The fare was equivalent to about two years annual salary for the average Australian while today it would cost about a week’s wages, an indication of the real cost reductions that have taken place in the industry.
1952 - The first production commercial jetliner, the de Havilland Comet, enters service with BOAC. The Comet suffered from safety issues, however, and although later models proved successful, BOAC stopped flying the aircraft in 1965. The Comet’s last commercial flight was in 1981.
1959 - The year is not in doubt but exactly where the first jet bridge was used is open to debate. One version has a frantic effort by Delta Air Lines to have a jet bridge ready in time for the arrival of its first DC-8 at Atlanta. Whatever the truth, the jet bridge has proved an enormous success and was an early marker on the road to greater passenger convenience.
1961 - David Flexer of Inflight Motion Pictures developed the 16mm film system for a wide variety of commercial aircraft. TWA was the first carrier to use Flexer’s innovation while Pakistan International was the first non-US carrier to show a regularly scheduled in-flight movie. Passenger services haven’t looked back since, even if the advent of personal devices and content has changed the landscape somewhat.
1964 - The Beatles arriving at JFK. A sure sign of aviation’s ability to integrate and spread cultural values, about 4,000 UK fans saw The Beatles off at Heathrow while a similar number welcomed the arrival of Pan Am 101 at New York’s JFK Airport. The following day, the group appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, watched by some 73 million viewers.
1970 - The Boeing 747, the first widebody aircraft, enters service. Boeing famously “bet the company” on delivering the 747. It entered service in January 1970 on Pan Am’s New York-London service and its latest variant, the 747-8 came online in 2012.
1971 - Southwest Airlines launches service. Southwest is recognized as a pioneer of low cost travel. Since its inauguration, LCCs have transformed the aviation landscape, bringing a number of innovations to the market and forcing legacy carriers to become more competitive to the ultimate benefit of the consumer.
First neutral paper ticket and the establishment of the Billings and Settlement Plan (BSP). The BSP is a crucial initiative that ensures airlines get any monies owed as promptly and as accurately as possible. In 2012, 88 BSPs served 350 airlines in 177 countries and territories. The total amount processed was $252 billion.
1972 - Start of the Treasures of Tutankhamun tour. Annually, aviation carries goods worth $6.4 trillion. Shipments range from the everyday to the unusual. The treasures of Tutankhamun first traveled in 1961 but the tour that began in 1972 is regarded as the most famous. It visited Europe, Russia, and the United States, drawing crowds that, in terms of numbers, many museums have never bettered.
1976 - Concorde flew for first time on scheduled service – London-Bahrain and then Paris-Rio de Janeiro. The supersonic jet remained in service for 27 years. The aircraft had to be painted predominantly in a white reflective paint due to the heat build-up caused by the aircraft’s high speeds.
1978 - US Airline Deregulation Act. This phased out government control of fares, routes and market entry by new airlines, exposing US carriers to market forces and beginning the long road to the full, global liberalization of the industry. The beneficial effects can be seen in the price of a New York-Los Angeles roundtrip that would have cost near $1,500 before deregulation and today costs around $300.
1981 - Start of American Airlines AAdvantage. Bob Crandall was the driving force behind AAdvantage, recognized as the industry’s first true frequent flyer program (FFP), even though Texas International Airlines had launched a loyalty scheme a couple of years earlier. AAdvantage clearly blazed a trail and remains among the largest FFPs with around 67 million members. The data involved in FFPs is the basis for greater personalization.
1989 - KLM-Northwest Airlines Wings Alliance. The first major alliance never grew beyond the two airlines but it proved both the advantages of consolidation to the consumer and the challenges that had to be overcome. True cross-border mergers remain an industry aim but are not possible in the current regulatory environment.
1990 - Air India, in association with Indian Airlines and the Indian Air Force, is in the Guinness Book of World Records for “the largest evacuation effort by a single civilian airline.” It flew 111,000 people from Amman to Mumbai in 59 days, operating 488 flights just before the First Gulf War.
1997 - Five airlines from three continents founded the Star Alliance. Two other global airline alliances, oneworld and SkyTeam, followed soon after, bringing a multitude of benefits to customers and replicating as much as possible the economies of scale brought about by consolidation.
1998 - First Transpolar flight by Cathay Pacific. Dubbed Polar One, the flight crosses the northern polar region and connects New York with Hong Kong in about 16 hours. Improving the connection between the United States and Asia serves the continuing growth in demand for air travel between these two regions and is a key element in aviation’s support of the global economy.
1999 - Montreal Convention 1999. This amended important provisions in the Warsaw Convention. Of note is the enablement of e-freight, potentially reducing the costly cargo processes for both airlines and shippers. The 2013 target was to grow e-freight coverage to 45% of global trade lanes.
2004 - Aid flights for Indian Ocean Tsunami. Aviation’s speed and reliability can be critical during humanitarian emergencies. Examples of airlines providing flights to affected areas are numerous and include not only the 2004 tsunami but also the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the East African famine of 2011.
Singapore Airlines introduces non-stop flights to Los Angeles and Newark, New York. These were the longest scheduled commercial flights capabie of modern aircraft and were driven by the need to connect people and business in world leading cities.
2008 - 100% electronic ticketing. A key enabler of the various Fast Travel projects that have followed, electronic ticketing finally rid the passenger of the need for a paper ticket, improving the convenience and reliability of air travel.
2009 - Safety is the number one priority for the industry. All IATA members are IOSA-registered and many other airlines and governments have also seen the wisdom in this global standard. Enhanced IOSA is now being rolled out and will become mandatory in late 2015.
2011 - The first commercial biofuel flight. The Lufthansa service between Hamburg and Frankfurt was the first of many passenger-carrying biofuel flights.
A number of biofuel variations have been successfully tested. The challenge now is to ensure biofuels’ commercial viability to help airlines achieve their stated environmental goals.
2014 - Airbus A350 due to enter service. Qatar Airways is the launch customer of the Airbus A350. The aircraft is a century away from the bi-plane used by Tony Jannus and represents yet another leap forward in customer comfort and operational and environmental efficiency.