Now over 100-years-old, we thought we would take a closer look at the world’s oldest airline that still flies using its original name. Referred to as merely three letters, KLM stands for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, which in English translates to Royal Aviation Company.
KLM was founded in 1919 by a group of Dutch businessmen who raised 1.2 million Dutch guilders, which is around half a million dollars today. Impressed by its plans to put Holland on the aviation map, Queen Wilhelmina granted the fledgling company its royal designation and her seal of approval a month before the airline’s first commercial flight.
KLM’s first flight was from London to Amsterdam
With KLM being a Dutch company, you would have thought that its first flight would have been from Amsterdam, but with Great Britain at the forefront of aviation, it ended up taking off from London. In May of 1920, a modified De Havilland DH-9B World War I bomber flown by British pilot Jerry Shaw took off from Croydon for Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Still very basic with few instruments and no radio communications pilots navigated their routes by what they could see on the ground, often using railway lines for reference.
Just four years after its first flight across the North Sea, KLM launched its first intercontinental flight between Amsterdam and Jakarta in the Dutch East Indies. Using a German-built Fokker VII, KLM made the trip from Europe to Asia in 55 days, making 21 stops along the way. At the time, this was the longest scheduled flight in the world and continued right up until World War II.
During the war, KLM flew from Bristol to Lisbon
When Germany invaded the Netherlands in the spring of 1940, KLM managed to get six of its aircraft to Britain. Under BOAC registration, it operated passenger flights between Bristol and Lisbon in neutral Portugal. When the war in Europe ended in 1945, KLM immediately started to rebuild its network and was the first continental airline to offer a scheduled transatlantic flight between Amsterdam and New York. KLM has now been flying from Amsterdam to New York uninterrupted for 74 years.
The Netherlands national flag carrier is also credited as being the first airline to offer an in-flight magazine called the “Holland Herald” in 1966 long before in-flight entertainment systems.
KLM will survive COVID-19
After having been given the royal seal of approval by Queen Wilhelmina back in 1919, KLM remains true to its regal roots. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has been a pilot for KLM for over 20 years and is currently certified to fly Boeing 737s. While not flying for KLM every day, the 53-year-old can be found in the cockpit around twice a month.
Currently, like other airlines around the world, KLM is trying to figure out how it will come back from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic that has brought flying to a virtual standstill. Fortunately for KLM, they have the backing of the Dutch government to help steer them through the crisis. The airline will almost certainly survive.
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