The birth of the first airline

Many of us have heard about the oldest airline or the first plane that was invented, but what about the first airline in the world, that first had a successful project. The recognition goes to DELAG, acronym for Deutsche Luftschifffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, that means German Airship Travel Corporation, founded on 16 November 1909. This was the world’s first airline to use an aircraft specifically an airship to generate income by mean of the commercial passenger-carrying.

Graf Zeppelin over San Francisco. Source:

DELAG was created as a commercial branch of Zeppelin Luftschiffbau, a German aircraft manufacturer known by their rigid airship designs. On 19 June 1910 the first zeppelin of DELAG carried out its first takeoff, and only one month before beginning the World War I, the airline had performed 1,588 flights and transported 34,028 passengers. It is certain that in the war, these airships were used during the conflict being requested by the German Army. However, briefly after the conflict, the company started again. This led to the introduction of the new LZ-120 Bodensee, a civilian zeppelin built to provide a fast air transportation from Berlin to Friedrichshafen. Having been built within 6 months, the airship made its first flight on 20 august 1919. The flight between these two cities took 4-9 hours, much less time compared to the train that lasted 18-24 hours, an advantage for the time. It is shocking, but these type of aircraft can have a huge capacity of payload, specifically the LZ-120 could carry 11,000 lbs of mail, and 6,600 of cargo. Taking about the speed, that one could reach a speed of 132.5 Km/h. The airship was equipped with washrooms and kitchen, could carry 26 passengers, and a crew of 12.

Wind tunnel testing of design for LZ-120 Bodensee. Source:

The airline had more ambitious plans, such as intercontinental flights, so DELAG offered its first transatlantic air passenger service, enabling the airline launch this mode of transport even when airplanes were unable to cross the ocean due to their insufficient range, granting them this record.

Graf Zeppelin over Rio de Janeiro. Source:

This operation was represented by the model LZ-127 Graf zeppelin for flight between Germany and America on October 11, 1928 and landed in New Jersey on October 15. In addition, the aircraft crossed the South Atlantic 136 times with routes to Brazil and Argentina. This, influenced by the trade connection, business, transportation of mail, passengers, among others. The airline was offering flight services from Germany to Brazil every other Saturday, and enabling intermodal transportation with airplane flight to Argentina.

Graf Zeppelin’s route across the Atlantic. Source:
Brochure for zeppelin service to South America. Source:
Graf Zeppelin, Maiden Flight. Source: Youtube link.

The LZ-127 Graf zeppelin was over Canary island, and it received the news about the famous Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey, Hindenburg was captured on films so millions of people around the world had seen inferno which destroyed the airship. Due to this reason and by safety, the LZ-127 airship has never flown again with passengers. After this, it was flown to Frankfort, where it is on display. Therefore, the passenger flight service of airships was condemned, at the same time when airplanes with more range capacity were emerging.

DELAG along with the airships operated, met several records in navigation around the world and used the first flight attendance service. Such events change the world of air transport and people perception of traveling. This gave the place of the first airline that moved the world.


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