On the world's airways, one fact was plain: the Air Age needed a lot of supercharging from state subsidies to maintain flying speed. Because of subsidies, free-enterprising American-flag lines, once way ahead, could now see a handful of foreign lines, state-supported in varying degrees, creeping up on their tails. On the choicest routethe North Atlanticthe American lines were still well in front. The Pacific Ocean was still an American lake. But over the land mass of Asia, the British, Dutch and French lines were pressing hard; Air France has just opened a new run to Hong Kong from French Indo-China; the British Overseas Airways Corp. has added a leg to Ceylon from Karachi.
After a bad winter and early spring, U.S. overseas airlines were in the black. A few foreign airlines were making small profitsif one ignored state services not charged to their books. But U.S. airlines' biggest rival, Britain's state-owned cluster of chosen instruments, was bogged down. The cluster's biggest star, BOAC, had lost £5 million for the twelve months ended in March. There were estimates that the 1947 loss would double that.
Muddling Through. To cope with the problem, BOAC last month sent in a new team. In as chairman, replacing Lord Knollys (rhymes with coals), went 68-year-old Sir Harold Hartley, famed chemist and transportation expert who had managed Britain's aviation gasoline program in World War II. As his managing director, Sir Harold got young (34), handsome Whitney Straight,* ex-R.A.F. pilot and commodore in Britain's Transport Command. Born in the U.S., Straight has lived in England since he was 13. He became a British subject and in his 20s he founded the Straight Corp., ran 23 of its aviation companies, including Western Airways, busiest in the British Isles. In one season it carried 42,000 passengers between England and Wales at less than third-class rail fares, and made money.
But it would take all of. Straight's enterprise and all of Sir Harold's science to get BOAC through the next five years. That is the estimated minimum time it will take the British aircraft industry to perfect the jet transports with which it hopes to surpass U.S. planes. Until then, BOAC will have to make do with obsolete, uneconomic transports, many of them converted bombers, and with intermediate new models now abuilding, such as the big Shetland flying boat (see cut). BOAC bought five Constellations, was about to get more when the Labor Government forbade it to spend any more precious dollars to modernize its fleet.
BOAC's sister company, British South American Airways, is experimenting with a new trick to speed up Britain's lumbering transports: nonstop Atlantic crossings with midair refueling over the Azores from 'tanker" planes. While Britain bumbles along, smaller nations with bright new U.S. planes are catching some of the cream of world air travel.