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Which was the world’s first airline?

Editorial

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On November 16, 1909, the world’s first airline, DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft or German Airship Company) was established. Its first flight was with the LZ6, but the first civil commercial Zeppelins were the LZ7 and LZ8, both named “Deutschland”. The success came with the LZ10 “Schwaben” and the LZ13 “Hansa” that carried both passengers and mail. After the war, the LZ120 “Bodensee” and the LZ121 “Nordstern” became the first airships especially designed for passenger use.

Imagine what it must be like for the general public for the first time, to be able to see the world from the air.

LZ6, the first commercial airliner

The LZ6, the world’s first commercial airliner. Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum

Passenger car of the Nordstern

Passenger car of the Nordstern. Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum

In 1931, DELAG offered the first scheduled transatlantic passenger route between Germany and South America with the LZ127 “Graf Zeppelin”, making 143 Atlantic crossings in its lifetime. In the 30s, the only other way to travel between Europe and the Americas was by sea where Southampton-New York took about 5 days. 

The airships offered a journey of only 2.5 days, with less motion sickness. Soon, flying became a symbol of modernity, status and sophistication. “The Graf recorded 1,350,000km, carrying more than 12,000 passengers before it was retired.

DELAG brochure
DELAG brochure with multiple itineraries Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum
Zeppelin in Recife, Brazil

Destinations varied, like here in Recife, Brazil. Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum

LIFE ON BOARD

Transatlantic airships like “The Graf” carried 20 passengers and a crew of 50 to 60 people and flew at an incredible max speed of about 135 kph. In addition, they had a large structure equipped with living rooms, cabins with bunk beds, bathrooms, dining rooms, lounges, and even smoking and writing rooms.

The ticket included all meals and drinks, handbags, suitcases and the trunk could not be missed, with all the necessary belongings for the final destination. The total weight of luggage allowed per person was 126 kg  in some flights, much less than any boat trip at the time. The latest airships had a sophisticated onboard telegram sending and receiving system where business travellers could communicate with their respective offices or clients in real-time. 

In the 1920s and ‘30s, airships flew all over the world and were the most efficient mean of transportation of the day. Its engineering was, in its day the most advanced in the use of duralumin and air navigation techniques

In 1937, the “Hindenburg” accident claimed the lives of 35 people out of a total of 97 passengers. It was the first live-broadcasted accident. The impact that the images caused on an audience accustomed to reading events but not to seeing them was so great that it marked the end of the era of large airships.

At their time,  Zeppelins were the most efficient means of transport. Almost 100 years later, OceanSky will bring back the golden age of airships to the skies and lead a new era of sustainable aviation.

In 1937, the Hindenburg accident was the first live-boradcasted accident. Photo: Nationaal Archief