Flying has come a long since the 1930s…
The statistics are staggering. 6000 Americans traveled on commercial aviation in 1930. By 1938 that number was 1.2 million. An entire industry evolved in less than a decade and this article takes a look at what has and hasn’t changed since, in the world of executive jets.
A Gentleman’s Club in the Sky
The cabin of a flying boat was the pinnacle of luxury travel back in 1937, reserved for the very elite of society. Back then the cost of a coast to coast flight across America was similar that of buying a standard motor vehicle. Back then, executive jets demanded that passengers were dressed as if attending a gentlemen's club, with dinner suits for men and elaborate dresses for the ladies. They would stumble from the plane after copious gins and cigars, to an airport or river in the middle of nowhere.
Flying Boats Hopping Across the East
Two complementary advancements were changing travel on either side of the Atlantic. The UK had developed seaplanes, or flying boats as they were nicknamed. These provided expedited access to the colonies. The UK to Singapore meant just eight days of flying! London to Sydney was possible in less than two weeks (just think – Qantas will soon be operating a non-stop London to Sydney in just 20 hours).
For commercial and executive jet operations, these flying boats were faster and more comfortable than the land-based DH86 biplanes of the time. With a top speed of 160mph, they started whisking people and mail all over the Middle East. England to Australia required 31 refueling stops and one of those was Dubai Creek. Passengers disembarked to a dusty desert that really was the middle of nowhere. They would spend the night then cross the Gulf of Oman the next morning.
This, amazingly, is the origins of Dubai, a city that has come a long way since it cost five rupees a night to land your seaplane on its creek. On this side of the Atlantic, flying boats were the executive jets of their time. Before these contraptions it would take months to travel to Australia or Asia by boat. By 1938 the elite were flying.
From Wood to Metal Planes
The big silver seaplane blimps evolved during World War I. While the Wright Brothers made aviation a possibility, it was wartime that made it an efficient possibility. Planes transitioned from wood to metal, meaning they could handle dramatic changes in temperature and counteract the limitations the brothers had met. The very first executive jet flight cruised at just five feet above the ground. By the 1930s they were mostly cruising at 13,000 feet, at a speed that approached 200 mph. Most of this development took place in the US.
A surplus of war planes were scattered across the country. Pilots became traveling salesmen, touching down on a highway, then wandering into a town or city,and offering their services. You or your cargo could fly privately to wherever you needed to go, for a cost of course. This was a time before oxygen enriched cabins when dramatic drops in altitude were considered the norm.
It was also a time before Part 135 air charters. There were no rules back then; pilots used highways as runways and parked on farmers fields to do their mechanics. This haphazard way to fly on executive jets also gave rise to airport FBOs, with new laws requiring airplane operators to have a fixed base of operations.
How Private Flying Has Changed Since the 1930s
Even bigger changes came during the 1940s – war. There was a huge investment in air travel for military purposes, as governments plowed vast resources into developing an effective air-force. Planes needed to be bigger, faster, more agile and more reliable. As such they needed longer runways than somewhere like Dubai Creek couldn't offer. So seaplanes stopped ruling one side of the skies and larger commercial planes became the norm from the 1950s onward.
So what’s changed since then. Of course way more people fly. There are thousands more airports, hundreds more airlines, and an almost infinity of choice. But not that much has changed really...
Back in the 1930s airplanes were gentleman’s clubs in the sky. In the 1960s and 1970s they were serving lobster thermidor at 30,000 feet. In-seat and in-cabin comfort really hasn’t changed since then. Of course there is the overpriced world of luxury private jets - beds, celebrities, golden fittings... - but most executive jets promise the same as the planes of the 1930s. There's a comfortable seat, more than enough legroom, and efficient personal service. The main advancement has been in technology – you get more oxygen and less altitude changes nowadays.
Flying boats and flying anywhere in the 1930s was considered an exclusive and somewhat outlandish luxury. Jet brokers may suggest that is also true of 21st-century executive jets. However, chartering an airplane is far less exclusive than it was to fly coast to coast back in 1938. Private flying is now possible for just about anyone in the US. For most Airvel customers it’s a business necessity rather than an indulgence, a means of getting things done rather than showing off wealth.
In 1933 it cost $260 to fly coast to coast across the States. When calculated with inflation that same flight would have cost $5050 in today’s money. Which really isn’t very different to the price of traveling on a private executive jet from New York to Los Angeles. Hourly charter rates for jets now vary from around $1000 to $8000 per flying hour. With Airvel you can charter a plane and the split the cost with others, so you just pay for a seat rather than the plane. With that saving it’s now cheaper to fly on a private jet than it was to fly on a commercial route.
Time Saved – Executive Jets in the 21st Century
The big change in aviation comes from the time saved. Just imagine, London to Singapore in eight days with 22 stops. Aircraft are much faster now, with most executive jets having a top speed somewhere between 400 – 700 mph. But the real time saved comes from the choice of airports. There were very few places you could land in the 1930s, a time after airport FBO requirements yet before the development of airports. Dubai is only a city today because it was one of a few places in the Middle East with a flat body of water where seaplanes could land.
In the US you now have a choice of over 2500 airports. That means taking off and touching down far closer to your final destination. Using airport FBOs reduces waiting time to zero – turn up just ten minutes before the flight rather than two hours. With executive jets you always fly direct, further increasing the time saved.
Now Everyone Can Fly
Back in the 1930s you needed a blazer and a cigar collection just to get on board. But in the 21st century everyone can fly. Not just on commercial flights, but on private jets as well. With Airvel, executive jets are affordable, efficient and accessible.