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The global route network of civil airlines in 2009
First-class cabin in a Boeing 747 of Lufthansa

An airline ( English airline ) is a company that operates the commercial transport of people or freight by air.


The first airline in the world

LZ -127 Graf Zeppelin via Berlin on behalf of DELAG , the first airline worldwide (founded in Frankfurt in 1909 )

On November 16, 1909, Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin founded the world's first airline in Frankfurt am Main : " DELAG " ("Deutsche Luftschifffahrt-Aktiengesellschaft"), which transported around 34,000 passengers between 1910 and 1913. Furthermore, the double-decker "Yellow Dog", launched on 10 June 1912 as the first mail plane from Frankfurt-Rebstock to the airport Darmstadt .

Other companies followed, and by 1913 a transport network between Düsseldorf , Baden-Oos , Berlin-Johannisthal , Gotha , Frankfurt am Main , Hamburg , Dresden and Leipzig was established. However, the First World War prevented the planned connection of European capitals .

Upswing in post-war Europe

After the end of World War I , the Royal Air Force converted some DH4 aircraft into passenger aircraft and operated the first post-war passenger and mail traffic between London and Paris . The French airline "Lignes Aériennes Latécoère" began flight operations between Toulouse and Barcelona at Christmas 1918 , and on February 5, 1919, the " Deutsche Luftreederei ", a forerunner of Lufthansa , established regular passenger services between Berlin and Weimar . In the years that followed, many other companies and routes were established, for example the French "Compagnie des Messageries Aériennes", the British Aircraft Transport & Travel , the Swiss Ad Astra Aero (later Swissair ) and the Dutch KLM ( Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij 'Königliche Airline ').

In Frankfurt a scheduled air traffic service was introduced with the urban “ Südwestdeutsche Luftverkehrs-AG ”, and with the merger of the leading German airlines “Deutscher Aero Lloyd AG” and “Junkers-Luftverkehrs AG” to form “ Deutsche Luft Hansa AG ” on January 6, 1926 “Began the great breakthrough in civil aviation in Germany. The new state-owned airline developed very satisfactorily, and just one year after it was founded, “Luft Hansa” began transporting passengers in Europe as well as to the Far East and South America.

Boom in the USA

In the USA , the development of civil aviation was not as advanced as in Europe, but that changed on May 19, 1927 when Charles Lindbergh carried out the first successful solo transatlantic flight. Due to this groundbreaking success, American aircraft construction and the airlines there experienced a huge boom. In 1926 there were twelve airlines in the United States; in 1928 there were already 25. In 1930, American airlines made twice as many flights as all European airlines combined.

Airlines today

State-run airlines

Until a few years ago, most of the - often loss-making - airlines were state-operated or at least state-sponsored as a prestige object. These airlines are also known as " flag carriers " because they fly under the flag of a country, so to speak. State flag carriers are not necessarily subject to the normal requirements of the market due to the availability of public funds; negative operating results were often offset by generous government donations. In Germany it was in this case - to the made privatization - around the Lufthansa .

In Great Britain it was British Airways , in France it was Air France . AF lost the designation "National Society" on June 3, 1998; its share has been traded on the stock exchange since February 22, 1999. In Italy it was the Alitalia , in Spain the Iberia . In Japan it was Japan Airlines . In Vietnam it is Vietnam Airlines , in Thailand Thai Airways , etc.

The EU law contains a general prohibition on aid . The EU Competition Commissioner is responsible .

Privatization and liberalization of air transport

As a result of increasing liberalization and the corresponding deregulation by authorities and governments, more and more traditional state lines are developing into private scheduled airlines that have to prove themselves on the free market.

Charter airlines

The charter airlines , also known as "Ferienflieger", usually do not offer their own flights, but provide flight services for tourism companies or private individuals under their respective brand names, depending on requirements.

Low cost airlines

In addition to traditional public and private airlines increasingly establish low cost airlines (English. Low-cost carriers ). They primarily serve connections in the short and medium-haul range at particularly low prices. The profit results from the high capacity utilization and the short turnaround of the aircraft according to the shuttle principle. The low prices are offered with restrictions in terms of flexibility, service and comfort (e.g. seat spacing). It is not possible to rebook free of charge on flights at other flight times. Food on board is only available for an extra charge, the arrival and departure airports are often away from the major commercial airports. In addition to the airfare, there are often various additional fees such as B. to be paid for checked baggage with a lower free baggage allowance. The use of smaller regional airports means savings for the companies on take-off, landing, handling and parking fees. Since low-cost airlines often make up a significant proportion of the traffic volume of the airports they serve, they can exert particular pressure in negotiations to lower the fees and thus threaten to postpone large parts of the flight program or all flights. A particular disadvantage for passengers is the sometimes poor connection to an existing infrastructure, such as motorways, train connections or the location far away from urban centers. However, this is accepted by many customers, as the price advantage prevails.

Cargo airlines

For freight airlines (English. Cargo Carrier ) is, to airlines that are usually specially built for this purpose cargo aircraft concentrate on the pure freight transport, whether scheduled or charter flights. This market is becoming increasingly important due to the convergence of global economic markets. In recent years, this development has led to growth rates in the airfreight division that have hardly been achieved in other areas. In the case of parcel and courier services, this sometimes even leads to significantly larger fleets compared to passenger airlines. The fleets of well-known courier transport companies such as Federal Express , DHL or UPS sometimes consist of more than 600 aircraft, whereas airlines with a focus on passenger transport rarely operate more than 400 aircraft. The great advantages of airborne freight transport, for example compared to sea ​​freight , are in particular the time saved between production and production revenue while at the same time opening up markets far beyond the production sites . Bulk goods such as coal or grain are the exception for cargo airlines, unless they are chartered by governments or humanitarian aid organizations for emergency supplies in crisis or drought areas (see also Berlin Airlift ). On some routes, especially in traffic between East Asia and Europe, the railways are increasingly competing. It is true that transports via the Trans-Siberian Railway or the "New Silk Road" cannot be carried out as quickly as by plane or as cheaply as by ship, but the train is significantly cheaper than the plane and faster than the ship, which means more and more freight customers is attractive.

Some airlines established in the passenger traffic also operate their own cargo airlines. Examples of this are Lufthansa Cargo , a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group, or Singapore Airlines Cargo as a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines . These companies do not only transport the cargo with pure cargo aircraft, but also as additional cargo on the parent company's passenger flights, since most passenger aircraft also offer limited cargo capacity.

Companies with special aircraft

Some companies only operate special types of aircraft and have the largest fleet of these aircraft types, for example The Lightship Group ( airships ) or Maldivian Air Taxi ( seaplanes ).

Aircraft leasing

Airlines do not always own the aircraft they use - in aviation , too, various options for financing expensive capital goods have become established. Aircraft are often leased , with the forms of "dry leasing" and " wet leasing ". With "dry leasing" the airline has to provide its own on-board crew, with "wet leasing", however, the on-board personnel including pilots are also made available. In contrast to the use of charter airlines, the lessee has completely free authority to dispose of flight times and routes. A number of very large leasing companies have established themselves in this - sometimes very lucrative - market in recent years. For example GECAS , a subsidiary of the General Electric Group, and the ILFC , which regularly attracts the attention of the press with its sometimes spectacular aircraft orders.


Both IATA and ICAO assign abbreviations to airlines so that they can be referenced in a standardized form. The IATA airline codes are much more common than the ICAO codes . IATA codes are always two-digit and consist of capital letters or numbers. There is also a combination of first a number, followed by a (capital) letter. For example, the code for the airline “Germanwings” is the code “4U”.

These codes can be found in flight plans in the flight number , as well as on the ticket (also in the flight number), and also at the airport in the display of outgoing flights.

The less common ICAO airline code for airlines is three-digit according to ICAO document 8585 .


The monitoring of compliance with safety standards by airlines to ensure flight safety is subject to various institutions around the world. In the EU this is the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), in the USA the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In coordination with EASA and the national aviation safety authorities - in Germany: Federal Aviation Office (LBA), in Switzerland: Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA), in Austria: Supreme Civil Aviation Authority (OZB) - the European Commission prohibits operations for airlines that are considered unsafe in European airspace. The list of operating bans for the airspace of the European Union is published regularly in the Official Journal of the European Union .

See also


  • Andreas Fecker: Airlines. Painting, planes, facts. All major lines at airports in Germany, Austria and Switzerland . GeraMond, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-7654-7214-X .

Web links

Wiktionary: Airline  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Airlines  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikivoyage: Airlines  - Travel Guide

Individual evidence

  1. Lufthansa Cargo , from August 28, 2009
  2. bmvit - Supreme Civil Aviation Authority. Retrieved September 5, 2019 .
  3. European Commission - Aviation Safety ( Memento of August 10, 2011 in the Internet Archive )