When it comes to the oldest airline in the world, it seems to be a bit of a moving target. The generally accepted airlines that are on this list seem to have a new challenger in the midst.

It all started when British Airways sent out a press release celebrating their 99th birthday on 25 August 2018. That was news to me, because if true it means that they are the oldest airline in the world.

Oldest Airlines Or Not?

Dutch airline KLM is generally accepted as the oldest airline in the world. Founded on 7 October 1919, the first flight departed on 17 May 1920 from London Croydon Airport to Amsterdam.

Australia’s Qantas was originally considered the second oldest airline because, like KLM, it still operates under its original name. Founded on 16 November 1920, it flew its first scheduled service on 2 November 1922.

Colombia’s Avianca is now on some lists as the second oldest airline, as its predecessor SCADTA (Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transporte Aéreo) was founded on 5 December 1919.

As mentioned, British Airways are saying they started on 25 August 1919, when Air Transport and Travel flew from Hounslow Heath to Paris with one passenger and some cargo. This airline was founded on 5 October 1916, which means BA are two years late to their centenary.

What Criteria Should Be Used?

Generally the list considers how long you have been operating under the same name. Therefore, KLM would be oldest, followed by Qantas with Russia’s Aeroflot in third place having been founded on 9 February 1923.

Qantas does try to take number one by claiming to be the oldest “continuously operating” airline in the world. They flew during World War II whereas KLM suspended service.

However, if you use the family tree method tracing your lineage back as far as you can, everything changes. Avianca points to SCADA from 1919 which is far earlier than their 14 June 1940 date when they merged with another airline to be formed.

British Airways, formed on 31 March 1974 upon the merger of BOAC and BEA does something similar. They go right back to the airlines that formed Imperial Airways (BOAC’s predecessor, formed 31 March 1924) to claim the title of world’s oldest airline.

Overall Thoughts

I’m curious to see how the oldest airlines will be reporting their centenaries next year. Keeping an eye on the wording of the press releases that British Airways and KLM send out will be a lesson in marketing, I’m sure.

Both methods work, whether it’s using the family tree style tracing of your history or straight up on the actual foundation of the currently named airline. I guess it all depends what you want to do with the information.

What do you think? KLM-Qantas-Aeroflot, or is it British Airways-KLM-Avianca-Qantas-Aeroflot? Which is the best method for the oldest airline to be based on? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Patrick Kop via KLM.
De Havilland DH.16 via Wikimedia Commons
Qantas Avro 504K by Qantas via Australian Financial Review.
SCADTA Junkers via Flickr.
Aeroflot TU-104 by Lars Söderström via Airliners.net