Which are the 5 oldest airlines in the world?

Throughout the history of aviation, certain airlines have stood the test of time, defying the challenges and changes that have shaped the industry. These airlines, with roots stretching back decades, represent the pioneers and trailblazers of air travel. In this article, we delve into the stories of five of the world's oldest airlines: KLM, Avianca, Qantas, Aeroflot, and Czech Airlines. From their humble beginnings to their significant contributions to the evolution of aviation, these airlines have left an indelible mark on the global airline industry. Join us as we explore their fascinating journeys, highlighting their milestones, innovations, and enduring legacies.


Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner KLM 100 sporting years livery.

KLM, officially known as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, holds the prestigious title of being the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name. Founded on October 7th, 1919, by a visionary group led by Dutch pilot Albert Plesman (1889–1953), KLM has a rich history that spans over a century.

KLM's maiden route connected Amsterdam and London in 1919, followed by a Copenhagen route via Hamburg the same year. In 1923, KLM expanded further by adding a route to Brussels. Notably, KLM established the world's first airline reservations and ticket office in Amsterdam in 1921.

In 1928, Plesman's pioneering spirit led to the establishment of the Royal Netherlands-East Indies Airlines (KNILM), later merged with KLM in 1945. KNILM inaugurated regular flights from the Netherlands to Batavia (now Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies, covering an astonishing distance of 8,700 miles (14,000 km). This route held the distinction of being the world's longest scheduled air route until 1940.

During World War II, KLM's operations were significantly curtailed, with minimal activity except for rapid growth in the West Indies. However, in 1945, KLM resumed its European services, and on May 21st, 1946, it achieved a historic milestone by becoming the first European airline to introduce scheduled service across the North Atlantic to New York.

In 2004, KLM joined SkyTeam, a prominent international airline alliance. In the same year, the airline entered a strategic merger with Air France, creating Air France–KLM, one of the world's largest air carriers. Interestingly, despite the merger, KLM and Air France have continued to operate as separate entities, retaining their respective hubs, flights, and logos.


An Avianca Boeing 787 landing.

Avianca, the national airline and flag carrier of Colombia, has a fascinating history that dates back to December 5th, 1919. Initially registered under the name SCADTA (Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transporte Aereo), the airline was based in Barranquilla on Colombia's picturesque Caribbean coast and enjoyed strong support from German expatriates. By September 1921, Avianca had revolutionized travel within Latin America by introducing the first regular service between its coastal base and the midland town of Girardot, significantly reducing travel time from weeks to mere hours with its innovative Junkers F-13 floatplanes.

In June 1940, SCADTA underwent a significant rebranding, emerging as Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia, better known as Avianca. This transformation coincided with a reshuffle in shareholdings and the dismissal of its German workforce, a consequence of the prevailing geopolitical situation. Avianca further cemented its reputation as a pioneering airline in South America by becoming the second carrier in the region to establish direct flights to the US mainland, following in the footsteps of Aerovias Brasil. Avianca's Douglas DC-4, which offered nonstop service between Colombia and Miami, played a crucial role in this expansion. By the mid-20th century, Avianca had ventured into Europe, adding Lisbon, Paris, and Rome to its growing list of international destinations.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic crisis took a toll on Avianca's operations. On May 10th, 2020, the airline was compelled to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a New York City court, ultimately leading to the liquidation of its subsidiary, Avianca Perú. Despite the challenges faced, Avianca's legacy as a pioneer in Latin American aviation and its contribution to revolutionizing regional travel remain significant.


QANTAS Airbus A380 Super Jumbo the flagship of their fleet.

QANTAS(Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services), Australia's iconic airline, has a rich history that traces back to its humble beginnings as a small airline operating taxi services, pleasure flights, and airmail services subsidized by the Australian government. The airline played a crucial role in linking railheads in western Queensland, serving as a lifeline for remote communities. In 1926, QANTAS made aviation history by building several aircraft in Longreach and launching the inaugural flight of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia from Cloncurry.

QANTAS Empire Airways Limited (QEA) was established in 1934 as a partnership between QANTAS and Britain's Imperial Airways. Their collaboration marked a significant milestone, as it paved the way for international operations. In May 1935, QEA commenced international flights when the service from Darwin was extended to Singapore. However, the outbreak of World War II disrupted air travel, impacting QANTAS' operations until 1943.

In 1947, QEA underwent nationalization, with the Australian Labor government acquiring the airline's shares. This pivotal moment set the stage for QANTAS to expand its international reach. The introduction of Lockheed L-749 Constellations in the same year enabled QANTAS to operate the trunk route to London, firmly establishing its presence on the global stage. By 1958, QANTAS had become the second airline to offer round-the-world flights, with Super Constellations flying westward from Australia to London via Asia and the Middle East.

QANTAS embraced the jet age in 1959 when it welcomed the Boeing 707-138 jet airliner. On July 29th, 1959, QANTAS launched its first jet service, connecting Sydney to San Francisco via Nadi and Honolulu. Notably, QANTAS became the third airline to operate transpacific flights with jets on September 5th, 1959.

Over the years, QANTAS underwent significant transformations. In 1992, the Australian Government sold the domestic carrier Australian Airlines to QANTAS, providing the airline with access to the Australian domestic market for the first time. Privatization followed in two stages: a 25% sale to British Airways in 1993 and a public float of the remaining 75% in mid-1995.


An Aeroflot Boeing 767-300 illustrates Aeroflot’s move to Western Aircraft in later years.

Aeroflot, Russia's flagship carrier and the largest airline in the country boasts an impressive history dating back to 1923, making it one of the world's oldest active airlines. Headquartered in Moscow, with Sheremetyevo International Airport serving as its main hub, Aeroflot has played a vital role in the development of Russian aviation.

 Originally founded in 1928 as Dobroflot, the airline underwent a reorganization in 1932 and emerged as Aeroflot. For decades, Aeroflot served as the flag carrier and a state-owned enterprise of the Soviet Union (USSR). During this period, the airline experienced remarkable growth, building a fleet of over five thousand domestically manufactured aircraft. It operated an extensive domestic and international flight network, connecting over three thousand destinations within the Soviet Union and globally. At its peak, Aeroflot held the distinction of being the world's largest airline.

 Following the dissolution of the USSR, Aeroflot underwent a significant transformation. The carrier transitioned into an open joint-stock company, embarking on a comprehensive restructuring process. During this period, Aeroflot strategically downsized its fleet while investing in Western aircraft and newer domestic models. The airline focused on expanding its international market share before shifting its attention to bolstering its domestic presence. By the end of 2017, Aeroflot had captured approximately 40% of the air market in Russia, solidifying its position as a dominant player in the industry.

Czech Airlines

Czech Airlines Airbus A320-214 is an example of the move back to Western airliners since the Soviet Block era.

Czech Airlines, the flag carrier of the Czech Republic, has a long and storied history that began on October 6th, 1923, as Czechoslovak State Airlines (CSA). As one of the oldest airlines in Europe, Czech Airlines has evolved into a modern airline while maintaining its commitment to excellence.

The airline's first transport flight took place just twenty-three days after its establishment, operating between Prague and Bratislava. Initially, CSA only operated domestic services, but in 1930, it expanded its operations with its first international flight, connecting Prague to Bratislava and onward to Zagreb in Yugoslavia. However, following the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1939, and the subsequent division of the country into three parts, the airline ceased operations.

In the wake of a political coup in February 1948, the Czechoslovak Communist Party implemented changes that impacted CSA. Western European and Middle Eastern routes were suspended, and the airline gradually replaced much of its fleet with Soviet-built aircraft due to the embargo on Western-built aircraft spares and equipment. Despite these challenges, CSA continued to adapt and operate in a changing landscape.

In 2018, Czech Airlines underwent a significant ownership change when 97.74% of the airline was acquired by Smartwings, leading to its integration into the Smartwings Group. The remaining 2.26% of the company was owned by the insurance company Česká Pojišťovna. As a member of the SkyTeam alliance, Czech Airlines operates a frequent flyer program called "OK Plus," referencing its International Air Transport Association designation and the term of approval.

In March 2021, Czech Airlines filed for bankruptcy, resulting in an extensive business restructuring. However, in June 2022, the airline successfully emerged from bankruptcy under a new ownership structure. The parent company, Prague City Air s.r.o., now owns 70% of the company, while Smartwings retains the remaining 30%. This new chapter in Czech Airlines' history provides an opportunity for revitalization and continued growth in the ever-changing aviation industry.

In conclusion, these five airlines – KLM, Avianca, Qantas, Aeroflot, and Czech Airlines – each hold a unique place in aviation history as some of the oldest airlines in the world. Their stories of resilience, adaptation, and innovation have contributed to the development of the global aviation industry, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to inspire and shape the future of air travel.



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