How the Air Travel Industry Took Off

How easy is it to travel these days? All you need to do is open your browser or an app on your smartphone, search your destination and select the most affordable flight. It’s so easy that more than eight million people do it every day, according to the International Air Transport Association.

But travelling wasn’t always this easy. While we’ve been flying commercially for over 100 years now, the industry only really took off in the late 20th century and while it’s certainly more cost-effective today, the industry still faces many challenges. In this blog, we take a look at how the air travel industry started and what’s in store for the future.

Where modern aerospace began

Most of us know who the Wright brothers are. We know that their interest in the preliminary work of early aerospace engineers brought about the first powered sustained flight at Kitty Hawk, North Caroline on 17 December 1903.

But it wasn’t until 1 January 1914 when the first commercial flight occurred, with just one sole passenger. Former St Petersburg, Florida mayor Abram C Pheil paid US$400 (over $9000 in today’s money) for the honour of being the first commercial airline passenger. He boarded the modest plane and flew the 37-kilometre journey from St Petersburg to Tampa, Florida, completing it in just over 20 minutes.

That single flight was the start of the industry we know today that allows us to travel globally at the drop of a hat.

A change of emphasis in the late 20th century

Initially, flying was only seen as a travel option for the rich. Many immigrants in the early to mid-20th century still travelled by sea. Interstate travel by plane was an obscene luxury – or purely for medical emergency.

It wasn’t until the arrival of the larger airliners such as Boeing 747 in the 1970s where the industry really began to grow. Bigger planes meant more passengers, which meant cheaper tickets and a monumental shift in focus. Rather than keeping air travel exclusive, more countries and companies began to build airports to ensure they wouldn’t be left behind.

Future proofing the industry in the 21st century

With more and more budget airlines cropping up every year, the market has changed significantly even from the late 1970s. The focus is now on fuel diversification to ensure a more sustainable industry as well as managing flight path congestion. With eight million people travelling by air on a daily basis, that’s a lot of planes in the sky at one time. One things for certain, we’d much rather book a 22-hour flight to Europe than spend several weeks on a ship.

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