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.
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
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.
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.