The Oldest Airlines Still in Use
On the 5th December 2019, Avianca recently celebrated its 100th birthday, having started in 1919. The company was originally founded by German immigrants in Barranquilla, Colombia and was named SCADTA. In 1949, SCADTA merged with fellow Colombian airline SACO (Servicio Aéreo Colombiano) and adopted its current name.
It was the second oldest airline in the world, as it was founded just days after KLM, but sadly due to COVID-19 Avianca has filed for bankruptcy, after filing for bankruptcy and failing to meet a bond payment deadline. The bankruptcy might become a reality, then it would be one of the first large carriers worldwide to go under as a result of the pandemic.
So, the question remains – what are the oldest airlines still in use?
Top 10 oldest airlines
It can be argued that British Airways is the oldest airline still in existence. British Airways was formed 45 years ago following the merger of four companies: British Overseas Airways Corporation, British European Airways, Cambrian Airways and Northeast Airlines.
However, on August 25 1919, the world's first scheduled international flight between London and Paris took off with one passenger, plus some Devonshire cream and some grouse. While this may be controversial, it is arguably the start of British Airways and international commercial aviation.
The official name of the company is Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KLM) which in English means Royal Dutch Airlines, also used by the Dutch company of aircraft painted in two shades of blue. Although formally founded in October 1919, the new airline did not take off until May 1920, when a four-seater De Havilland DH.16 made the inaugural flight to London's now-defunct Croydon Airport.
In 1946, it became the first European airline to begin scheduled flights to New York, using DC-4 aircraft. The airline has also proved pioneering with its use of social media, by introducing the first social media-driven flight schedule. Today the airline is part of the Air France-KLM group and carries more than 34 million passengers a year with a fleet of around 220 aircraft.
Famously known for its kangaroo logo, the airline was founded November 16th 1920. Its name is an acronym for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS) Limited and its first aircraft was an Avro 504K, one of the most produced biplanes in history and born as a military aircraft in World War I.
With more than 300 aeroplanes and carrying about 55 million passengers annually, Qantas is Oceania’s largest airline and has launched a project to operate the world’s longest flights, Sunrise, with which it will launch routes such as Sydney-New York and Melbourne-London. Today Qantas remains the de facto flag carrier of Australia as well as the country's largest airline and one of its best-known brands globally.
Originally called Dobrolet, it was renamed Aeroflot in 1932 when the Soviet government decided to place the whole civilian aviation fleet under one single entity. It was once the largest airline in the world and it is a separate case in commercial aviation. Aeroflot arose out of a determination by Communist leader Lenin to establish air transport in the vast country.
When it was created, the company was the country’s commercial aviation. As a result, it took on a variety of functions from passenger transport to agricultural aviation. Aeroflot underwent a massive transformation during the first decade of the 21st century in terms of both service and fleet. Other than its original logo of hammer and sickle, the airline now bears little resemblance to its original look.
Czech Airlines (CSA)
Czech Airlines was founded in 1923 by the Czechoslovak government itself (at the time the two countries were still united) under the name of ČSA (Czechoslovak State Airlines). During the Cold War years, CSA operated a remarkably large operation that included a fleet of up to 21 long-range Ilyushin Il-62 aircraft as well as an extensive route network covering the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
It also suffered two unfortunate events making the airline stand out for unfortunate reasons. Firstly, ČSA was the first airline to suffer a mass hijacking, when three of its aircraft were diverted to West Germany by defectors in 1950. It was also the first airline to lose a captain at the hands of a hijacker, in an incident during the 1970s. The airline is now majority-owned by Czech group Travel Service.
Finnair began its operations in 1923 under the name of Aero O/Y in a partnership between a Finnish consul and other partners and Junkers, a German manufacturer that supplied its first aircraft, an F.13 monoplane. Its first flight took off in March 1924 from the capital Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia, across the Gulf of Finland. In 1953, it was renamed Finnair and to this day is controlled by the state that owns more than 55% of its shares.
During its first 12 years, the airline operated only seaplanes, a logical choice given the many lakes and water inlets that cover the surface of Finland.
In 1983, it became the first European airline to fly non-stop to Tokyo, with DC-10 aircraft. Five years later, Finnair was the only European airline with a direct flight between Europe and China.
One of the largest airlines in the world, Delta was founded in 1925 as “Huff Daland Dusters” which was a small crop-dusting operation in America's Deep South. The company only became Delta (Air Services, initially) in 1928 when it was bought by C.E. Woolman who honoured the Mississippi River Delta.
Its expansion phase began in the 1950s when it incorporated other companies and was the first to operate some jets such as the DC-8 and Convair 880. In more recent times, the company has grown more than ever by buying Pan Am’s routes to Europe and take over Northwest, and with it a whole air network to the Pacific. Delta is one of the world's largest airlines in terms of scheduled passengers.
Air Serbia has evolved from several airlines that operated as flag carriers of Yugoslavia (hence its code JU), starting with Aeroput in 1927. The company changed its name in 2003 to JAT Airways and represented then Serbia and Montenegro.
In 2013, already with Montenegro separated from Serbia, JAT had part of its actions taken by Etihad and its name became Air Serbia. With two dozen planes, the airline carried 2.5 million passengers in 2018.
This airline is one of the oldest names in commercial aviation. The company was founded in 1927 as part of a Spanish investor company and Deutsche Luft Hansa (DLH), the first German flag company, created the previous year and which was extinguished in 1945 (and whose name was bought by Luftag, now Lufthansa, in 1954).
In 1946, it was the first airline to fly between Europe and South America, a region that has remained at the core of Iberia's long haul business throughout its history. The airline was privatised in 2001 and it merged with British Airways in 2010 to create the International Airlines Group.
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