MIAMI – Today in Aviation, four British companies, BOAC, BEA, Cambrian Airways, and Northeast Airlines were merged in 1974 to form British Airways (BA).
As of 2019, the airline is the second-largest UK-based carrier, based on fleet size and passengers carried, behind easyJet (U2). In January 2011 BA merged with Iberia (IB), creating the International Airlines Group (IAG), a holding company registered in Madrid, Spain.
In terms of annual sales, IAG is the world’s third-largest airline group and the second-largest in Europe. On its part, BA is the first passenger airline to receive more than US$1bn on a single flight route in a single year (from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018) on the New York JFK-London Heathrow (LHR) route.
British Airways: A Brief History
British Airways was created in 1974 after a British Airways Board was established by the British government to manage the two nationalized airline corporations, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British European Airways (BEA), and two aforementioned British regional airlines.
Despite essentially merging the four firms to form BA in 1974, the airline celebrated its centennial in 2019, based on predecessor companies.
The carrier ordered two British Aerospace 748s shortly after the merger, with delivery scheduled for use in Scotland, where they would begin to replace the aging Viscount and also support North Sea exploration the year after. In October, the first Lockheed Tristar arrived but did not enter service until January 1975 because of industrial problems.
On January 21, the world’s first passenger supersonic services were inaugurated. Concurrently, BA flew to Bahrain (Concorde G-BOAA) and Air France (AF) to Rio de Janeiro via Dakar. Concorde flights to Washington Dulles (IAD) began on May 24, but problems with noise levels postponed operations to New York’s JFK airport. In June, BA’s first two Boeing 747-236s were delivered.
Privatization, Acquisitions and Alliances
The airline was privatized in February 1987, after nearly 13 years as a state-owned enterprise, as part of a larger privatization program set forth by the then-Conservative government.
British Caledonian, Dan-Air, and British Midland International were all acquired by the carrier in 1987, 1992, and 2012. Since several of its destinations in many regions were traditionally part of the British Empire, BA’s preeminence emphasizes the country’s reach globally.
British Airways is a founding member of the Oneworld airline alliance, along with American Airlines (AA), Cathay Pacific (CX), Qantas (QF), and the now-defunct Canadian Airlines. The alliance has since grown to become the third-largest, after SkyTeam and Star Alliance.
Featured image: British Airways G-CIVD Boeing 747-400 (OneWorld livery). Photo: Johann Heske/Airways