The Pioneers, Conquering the skies
As the oldest air transport company in France, the Compagnie Générale Transaérienne takes the Air France family tree bck to 1909. It mainly operated dirigibles and seaplanes.
The first passenger airlines appeared at the end of world war I, backed by private capital mainly from corporate bankers in association with aircraft manufacturers. Pierre-Georges Latécoère launched Les Lignes Latécoère in 1918 to carry mail. This was followed by l'Aéronavale, Les Messagerie Aériennes, les Grands Express Aériens, Les Lignes Farman and Messageries Transaériennes in 1919. La Compagnie Franco-Roumaine was set up the following year
The First Mergers
Little by little, french civil aviation became increasingly organized, encouraged by the French government, which substantially subsidized a business that was structurally loss-making. An initial merger took place in 1921 between C.G.T. and Les Messageries Aériennes. Les Messageries Aériennes and Les Grands Express Aériens subsequently merged under the Air Union brand. Aéronavale joined Air Union in 1926.
L'Aéropostale, set up in 1927, opened rotes to Spain, Morocco and South America, thanks to a farsighted businessman by the name of Marcel Bouilloux-Lafont, who took over the C.G.E.A. ( Compagnie Générale d'Entreprises Aéronautiques, formerly Lignes Latécoère).
Air Union and les Lignes Farman operated flights in Western Europe. The Compagnie Internationale de Navigation Aérienne ( CIDNA), formerly Franco-Roumaine, flew to Eastern Europe, and Air Orient set up in 1930, from Air Union-Lignes d'Orient, formerly Messageries Transaériennes, extended its network to the Far east.
Conquering the Skies
This was the time of the pioneering spirit, eminent personalities and magn,ificent feats : Didier Daurat, Director of Operations for Lignes Latécoère and later Aéropostale, Jean Mermoz, Henri Guillaumet, Marcel Reine, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Paul Vachet, Raymond Vanier, Jean Dabry, Georges Pivot, Léo Gimié, and many pilots and mechanics took great risks to take the mail as far as Santiago in Chile. Meanwhile Maurice Noguès pionneered new routes to Asia, and Jean Dagnaux to Africa
Commercial air transport began with the carriage of mail. At the time, passenger transportation was developping fast, but was still reserved for a very select few ( only 6786 passagers in 1922) . From 1923 to 1933, the French airline network grew fivefold.