Imperial Airways

The launch of Britain’s National Airline

London Croydon to Paris Le Bourget quickly became the world’s busiest air route. Competition was fierce and British airlines found it very difficult to compete against the heavily subsidised continental airlines. AT & T Limited was the first casualty from the subsidised competition and went into liquidation in 1921. 

To better compete against the continental competition the British Government looked to merge several small British airlines into a single commercial entity. On the 1st April 1924 Imperial Airways was born and the London Terminal Aerodrome, Croydon was its home base. Until the outbreak of World War Two halted commercial flying, Imperial Airways would be at the forefront of driving innovation and developing intercontinental air travel. It worked closely with aircraft manufacturers to develop safe, reliable and comfortable airliners. The Handley Page H.P.42, in service from 1931, was the result of a specification from Imperial Airways for a four-engined, long range, luxury passenger airliner. The world’s largest bi-plane airliner ever built, it was also one of the safest, having an untarnished safety record in commercial service.

Imperial Airways was the government’s “chosen instrument” to connect Britain with it’s extensive overseas interests. Privately owned but government sponsored, Imperial Airways grew an extensive network of international routes across the globe that orignated from the London Croydon Airport. The routes grew steadily year by year, reaching through Europe, India, Africa, the Middle East and onto the Far East and finally Australia. In 1934 Imperial Airways established the world’s longest air route from London Croydon to Brisbane Australia. The international air routes developed from the London Airport are some of the world’s longest established air routes- with some now over ninety years old.

Government policy at the time was to fund only one national airline and give it the monoploy over developing international air routes. Britain’s international airline was based at Britain’s only major international airport at Croydon. This saw the vast majority of government resources to develop commercial air transport pour into this one airport. This quirk of former government policy focussed a multitude of historic events in one place and Croydon Airport is now a significant part of Britain’s heritage.

Imperial Airways was the forerunner of today’s British Airways.