Air empire

British imperial civil aviation, 1919–39

Author: Gordon Pirie

The whole business of British air transport during the period of 1919-1939 was infused with muddle, belt-and-braces attitudes and old-fashioned company ideas. The conditions of inter-war Britain militated against new technology, fresh approach to management, organization and the relationships between capital and the state. This book provides unrivalled insights into the massive hopes engendered by the supposed conquest of the air, and the ways in which these were so swiftly squandered. Aeronautical societies attempted to spark initiatives through 'juvenile' lectures. The initial pioneering efforts were in the form of trans-Atlantic flights by ex-RAF pilots, the journey of Smith brothers to Australia, and flights across Africa. The book discusses the efforts towards organising the civil aviation and propagation to serve the cause of air communication, and the reconnaissance mission of Alan Cobham and Sefton Brancker to negotiate over-flying and landing facilities. Empire route development took place in stages, starting with the Middle East before venturing to India and Africa. However, organised Empire aviation was alive only in the form of occasional news items and speeches. The book examines the stresses of establishing Britain's eastern airway, and the regularisation of air services to Africa. Criticisms on Imperial Airways due to its small fleet and the size subsidy, and the airline's airmail service are also dealt with. As part of reconfiguration, the airlines had to focus more on airmail, which also saw a curtailment of its independence. Imperial Airways was finally nationalised in 1938 as British Overseas Airways Corporation.

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