British Airways can trace its origins back to the birth of civil aviation, the pioneering days following World War I. In the 90 years that have passed since the world's first schedule air service on 25 August 1919, air travel has changed beyond all recognition. Each decade saw new developments and challenges, which shaped the path for the future, Take a look at the different eras of air travel, to see how British Airways became the airline it is today.
On 25 August 1919, British Airways' forerunner company, Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited (AT&T), launched the world's first daily international scheduled air service between London and Paris. That initial proving flight, operated by a single-engined de Havilland DH4A biplane taking off from Hounslow Heath, close to its successor company's current Heathrow base, carried a single passenger and cargo that included newspapers, devonshire cream and grouse.
In 1924, Britain's four main fledgling airlines, which had by then evolved into Instone, Handley Page, The Daimler Airway and British Marine Air Navigation Company, merged to form Imperial Airways Limited. By 1925, Imperial Airways was providing services to Paris, Brussels, Basle, Cologne and Zurich.
In the mid 1930s, a handful of smaller UK air transport companies merged to form the original privately-owned British Airways Limited, which became Imperial Airways' principal UK competitor on European routes, operating out of another new airport, Gatwick. Following a government review, Imperial Airways and British Airways were nationalised in 1939 to form British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).
Post-war, BOAC continued to operate longhaul services, apart from routes to South America which were flown by British South American Airways (BSAA). This company was eventually merged back into BOAC in 1949. Continental european and domestic flights were flown by a new airline, British European Airways (BEA).
BOAC and BEA were the principal British operators of scheduled international passenger and cargo services and they preserved Britain's pioneering role in the industry. The 1950s saw the world enter the passenger jet era, led by BOAC, with the Comet 1 flying to Johannesburg in 1952, halving the previous flight time.
Following the formation of the Air Transport Licensing Board in 1960, other British airlines began to operate competing scheduled services. Eventually several of the smaller domestic airlines, including Cambrian Airways and BKS (later Northeast Airlines) passed into BEA's ownership.
British Caledonian was born in 1970, when the original Caledonian Airways took over British United Airways. Two years later, the businesses of BOAC and BEA were combined under the newly formed British Airways Board, with the separate airlines coming together as British Airways in 1974.
The Civil Aviation Act of 1980 was passed to enable the Government to sell its shares in British Airways. Lord King was appointed Chairman in 1981 and charged by the Secretary of State for Trade to take all necessary steps to restore the company to profitability and prepare it for privatisation.
The 1990s brought the first Gulf War in 1991, much activity in working with other airlines, the sale of Caledonian Airways, and the advent of Codeshare and franchise operations. The airline unveiled its new corporate identity featuring aircraft livery taken from images from around the world.
The British Airways Concorde fleet was finally retired, bringing with it the end of the world’s only supersonic passenger services, which has yet to be replaced. British Airways’ fleet of seven Concordes was dispersed for preservation to different worldwide locations. Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge retired as Chairman of British Airways, and was replaced by Martin Broughton.
The ATA was founded by British Airways Limited in May 1938 and organised by them into an operational unit at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. It was thus a civilian organisation which made an enormous contribution to victory by taking over from service pilots the task of ferrying RAF and RN warplanes from factories to maintenance units and front-line squadrons and back again from the squadrons if damaged or due for overhaul.