14th December 1920. Imperial Airways.
‘Civil aviation must fly by itself: the government cannot possibly hold it up in the air’. Churchill as Air Minister to the House of Commons 1920.
However with the cost of aircraft and reforming the primitive arrangement for passengers, as well as arguments about air-space, by 1922 government was accepting a need for subsidy; the following year an Air Minister was given Cabinet rank.
World War I had stimulated flying and technology, de Havilland’s DH4 had been a success and there was now the trained pilots and aircraft available for commercial operations.
Frederick Handley Page whose bombers had become the mainstay of the newly formed RAF was soon to convert many to commercial use as Handley Page Transport Ltd.
As early as October 1919 a few passengers for Paris and Brussels were arriving at his Cricklewood Aerodrome where they could buy a lunch box for three shillings before boarding an unheated plane. Noisy and slow they did have the latest Marconi radio telephony.
However the first disaster for the Company came Today on December 14th 1920, soon after take-off, when a HP O/400 which had been converted for passenger use crashed. Some managed to jump out, but two crew and two passengers were killed.
It was soon realized that overseas settlement and trading with Empire could be facilitated by extension of air-routes which required the resources of a larger company.
Thus with government backing, Imperial Airways was formed following the merger of four smaller companies: Daimler, Handley-Page Air Transport and Travel Ltd, Instone, (a colliery and shipping company), and British Marine Air Navigation.(1)
The Company became effective on 1.4.1924 with a base in Croydon, the service starting on the 26th, with a daily service to Paris with a de Havilland 34.
Eight months later, eight people died on 24th December, 1924 when a de Havilland DH-34B, City of Delhi of Imperial Airways dived into a housing estate nearby killing the pilot and 7 passengers. It constituted the biggest airline disaster in Britain at that time.
Imperial were given virtual monopoly on overseas routes and when legal problems dogged continental routes, turned to Empire via Basra, Baghdad, Cairo and by 1929 to Karachi and Delhi. In 1931 they were travelling to Central Africa, Cape Town, in 1933 to Singapore and 1934 to Australia.
Imperial’s first named service, Silver Wing was founded on 1st of May 1927, using an Argosy HP 42 named ‘City of Birmingham’. These luxury flights at £11 were equal to the average monthly wages and the first time proper lavatories and washing facilities were available, previously a screened bucket at the back sufficed.
By 1937 Imperial according to a poster was advising that their air-liners were all four engines for security.
(1) Planes of Instone’s from Croydon were trimmed with silver wings and royal-blue fusilage; pilots wore a naval-style uniform.
Ref: davidrumsey.com/Pic of map.