The World’s Oldest Airline Still Operating Under Its Original Name Made Its First Flight 99 Years Ago Today

May 17, 1920

Royal Dutch Airlines, or KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V.), began service with a flight between Croydon Airport in London, England, and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in the Netherlands. This airline, like several others in major European countries, came into existence within the first few years after the end of World War I.

Royal Dutch Airlines was founded in the fall of 1919 by a group of investors and bankers led by Albert Plesman. The British four-seat commercial biplane used for the company’s maiden flight on May 17, 1920, was an Airco DH.16 that had been designed by renowned aviation pioneer Geoffrey de Havilland.

The DH.16 biplane model that KLM employed.

Jerry Shaw was the pilot for this biplane’s first-of-a-kind journey, and his passengers were two British journalists. In addition, Shaw transported a load of newspapers on board. He also carried a letter from Sir James Roll, lord mayor of London, to Jan Willem Cornelis Tellegen, burgomaster (mayor) of Amsterdam. This letter was one “conveying cordial greeting from the City of London to the City of Amsterdam, and expressing the hope that this [airline] service will go far to assist in increasing the friendly and business relations between the two cities and the two nations,” reported the British journal Flight a few days later.

Royal Dutch Airlines has since gone on to become an important international entity when it comes to airborne travel. This company also has the distinction of being the world’s oldest airline still operating under its original name.

For more information on the history of Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM), please check out https://www.klm.com/corporate/en/about-klm/history/index.html.

Additional information on the type of biplane used for this airline’s maiden flight is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airco_DH.16.

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