Published Date

December 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 17: How Free Are the Skyways? (1945)

Does the end of the war mean the end of the two fears that held back the development of international flying before the war? Will the strangling restrictions go?

If the world can answer “yes” to those questions, then the golden age that the poet Tennyson envisioned may truly dawn.

If this new air age comes about, how will it look?


More routes planned

Perhaps transoceanic planes no longer will halt at the coastal fringes of continents as they did before the war. They may start their runs as far inland as Chicago and end them as far inland as Moscow.

New intercontinental links are planned. A person will be able to travel directly from North America to Africa, or to Asia by way of northern Europe.

Airmen envision at least five lanes across the Atlantic which we may call: (1) the Viking route, via Labrador, Greenland, and Iceland to Scandinavia; (2) the Iceberg route, via Newfoundland, Eire, and England; (3) the Sunshine route, via Bermuda, the Azores, and Portugal; (4) the Equatorial route, via Bermuda, the Azores, and West Africa; and (5) the Latino route, via Brazil and West Africa.

Only the Iceberg route and the Sunshine route operated before the war. The Viking route and the Latino route were added during the war. The Equatorial route is projected.

New ways to span the broad Pacific lie ahead. Lines may regularly run from the United States to Australia. They will reach the Netherlands East Indies from the Philippine Islands and reach Japan from Guam.

“North to the Orient” is the quickest way to reach Asia from the United States, although the ordinary map would not lead us to think so. So routes are planned to Batavia via Alaska, the Aleutians, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, Japan, and the Philippines, and via Alaska, Siberia, Manchuria, and Singapore, or the Philippines.

From San Francisco to Batavia by way of Hawaii is 9,830 miles. By way of the Aleutian Islands and Tokyo, believe it or not, it is only 9,375 miles.

Regularly operated airways apparently will enclose the globe. The maps of the future show routes from the United States to Calcutta by way of the Pacific and routes from the United States to Calcutta by way of the Mediterranean Sea.

More countries in the airways

Far more countries will operate international lines than did before the war. And those who operated them previously will extend the scope of their undertakings.

Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and perhaps others propose to inaugurate service across the Atlantic to North America over routes already operated by the United States and Britain.

Netherlands and British Commonwealth airlines propose to link Asia with North America via the Pacific. The Union of South Africa will be readily available to air travelers from the United States. United States airlines are seeking approval for the opening of new routes to Latin America. New services will link Europe with South America.

Within Europe there is certain to be a rearrangement of operations, for the victorious powers are not inclined to permit Germany or Italy to start again the airlines they were maintaining before the war.

In time planes may possibly fly over the North Polar region in joining the Old and New Worlds. Russian airmen twice made this hop in 1937. It is 11,900 miles from New York to Chungking by way of San Francisco and the Pacific. It is only 7,600 miles by way of the North Pole. But the long polar hop may be unprofitable, and although wartime flying across Greenland and over Alaska into Siberia has taught many lessons about northern weather, the technological problems raised by polar aviation are far from solved.

The Chicago aviation conference

Most of the United Nation’s agreed in 1944 to try to get rid of the fears and restrictions that had held back international aviation before the war. They sent representatives to a conference in Chicago arranged by the United States government. The purpose of the conference was to find a satisfactory way to settle the problems arising from divided “ownership” of the air.

One allied country, Russia, decided at the last moment not to send a delegate to the conference. Before the war Russia was operating almost 60,000 miles of airways within its own vast reaches, but it had few international links. A Swedish line connected Moscow with Stockholm, a Russian-German joint line connected Moscow with Berlin, a Russian line connected Moscow with Sofia, Bulgaria, and a Russian-Chinese line connected Siberia with northwestern China.

According to Juan Trippe, the president of Pan American World Airways, the Russian government in 1935 granted him permission to run an experimental line from Alaska into Siberian territory, although his company never went ahead with the operation.

Familiar fears

For those countries represented at Chicago, the old economic tear was still alive. The various countries represented were all determined to overcome this fear, but different countries proposed different methods of. doing away with it.

The economic fear had two facets:

First, fear that one or two countries might have so many airplanes and be able to build and operate so many more that they could get a monopoly of the air transport business almost from the word “go.”

Second, even if planes were divided up pretty evenly, the fear existed that the business available for international and intercontinental air transport—in terms of passengers, freight, express, and mail—would not be great enough to fill all the planes that all the countries might, want to put into the air and that therefore the strongest country, might soon drive the rest out of business if there were open competition.

The old concern for security was also noticeable at the Chicago conference. The war in whose midst the delegates met was marked by the use of ordinary commercial planes to transport paratroopers behind enemy lines. This fact left many of the governments with a deep conviction that peacetime and wartime aviation are inextricably mixed.

Two governments so convinced were those of Australia and New Zealand. Their delegations proposed an all-embracing international company that would own and operate the international air services of the world. This proposal, unacceptable to the conference, was put forward in an attempt to cope with the security problem.

The supporters of this proposal said that the internationalization of aircraft would render it difficult for nations to prepare to use peacetime planes for war purposes. The opponents feared internationalization more than they feared attack from the air.

Conference disagreements

These economic and security apprehensions are serious and sincere. The economic considerations inspired the suggestion made at the Chicago conference by the British delegation that after the war international air transport should be strictly controlled by an international bureau which would have the authority to fix rates, allocate traffic quotas, and assign routes to the various countries.

The United States delegation, on the other hand, argued in favor of more wide-open competition, at least during the immediate postwar period, with an arrangement for later consideration of the problem of dividing up the traffic justly among the interested countries. It proposed establishment of an international body whose chief power would be to deal with questions of standardizing equipment and other technological matters.

Next section: Will Postwar Flying Be Quick and Cheap?