October 7, 2019.   Dutch Centenary.

It’s been fun over the past several months seeing the proud “100” decals on the side of KLM’s Boeings and Airbuses. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is the oldest airline in the world, and on October 7th it will celebrate its one-hundredth birthday. It’s hard to imagine, but the airline that today can take you to Jakarta or Quito or Mount Kilimanjaro in a state-of-the-art jetliner, is the same airline that once ferried passengers, seven at a time, across the English Channel in a rickety Fokker made of wood and fabric. As part of the celebration, three of KLM’s Monday arrivals at JFK will be given a water cannon salute.

The letters KLM stand for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, which in English means Royal Aviation Company. But you knew that.

Airline genealogies can be complicated. Many carriers have changed names and identities or have blurred their pedigrees through mergers and acquisitions. Here are the seven oldest majors flying under their original monikers:

• KLM (1919)
• Qantas (1920)
• Aeroflot (1923)
• CSA Czech Airlines (1923)
• Finnair (1923)
• LOT Polish Airlines (1928)
• Delta Air Lines (1928)

If we allow for name changes and mergers, Colombia’s Avianca would be up there at number two, having started out in 1919 as something called SCADTA. It’s a shame to see Mexicana (previously in third place) gone from the list. The airline ceased flying in 2010 after eighty-seven years.

If you’re surprised that places like Mexico, Colombia, Russia, or Australia have such a long aviation heritage, remember that rugged terrain, lack of roads, and vast distances made these countries natural spots for aviation to take hold.

KLM photos by the author.

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