BMANC to Imperial Airways
The birth of a national airline
British Marine Air Navigation Company (BMANC) began life in 1923 as a joint venture between Supermarine and Southern Railways, the owners of Southampton Docks at that time. They started to operate regular flights on Fridays between Woolston, Southampton and the Channel Islands and Cherbourg, France. The flight was £5.50 return and took just 51 minutes to arrive at Cherbourg from the Needles on the Isle of Wight.
'City of Swanage' flying boat
Imperial Airways first began life on 31 March 1924. Four British aviation companies were offered an incentive of a one million pound subsidy from the government to merge and use only British made aircraft. The companies were Instone Airline, Daimler Airway, Handly Page Air Transport and the Southampton based BMANC. Together they formed the first unified national airline, Imperial Airways.
Using the inherited cross-Channel routes and planes, Imperial Airways operated 1,760 miles (2,830kmph) of European routes but never really made a success of them, preferring instead to concentrate on building the long haul routes to India and Africa using land-planes. In the 1930’s the routes were expanded with experimental proving flights to Australia. On these, the mail left on 1 April and arrived safely in Sydney on 29 April, halving the time the journey would have taken by sea.
At this time the airline was using land-based planes to fly to the British Empire and the company’s emphasis had shifted away from flyingboats. Although Supermarine was busy in Southampton developing seaplanes for the Schneider Trophy, commercial flying boat services on Southampton Water remained on a small scale. Imperial Airways had inherited some flying boats as part of the merger and it used them to operate the route to the Channel Islands. The customs airport at Woolston was maintained until the route ended in 1929. The last Short Calcutta flying boat was sent to work in the Mediterranean to form part of the Imperial Airways India route.
Imperial Airways logo
It wasn’t until 1934 and the introduction of the “Empire Air Mail Scheme” that Southampton and flying boats were again brought to the forefront of Britain’s commercial aviation history.