Owned by BSA, Ltd., Daimler Hire, Ltd. is formed as a transport subsidiary on June 7, 1919. Daimler Air Hire, the aircraft operating division of Daimler Hire, Ltd., is formed in 1920. In December, George Holt Thomas sells the remaining assets of his bankrupt Aircraft Transport and Travel (AT & T) to this new pioneer.
All British civil services are suspended for lack of money in the face of foreign subsidized competition on February 28, 1921. Although originally opposed to state aid, Secretary of State for Air Winston S. Churchill organizes a Cross-Channel Subsidies Committee on March 2 under Lord Londonderry. The overseas carriers are granted a temporary government ?88,200 subsidy on March 19, allowing resumption of operations.
Daimler proprietors Col. Frank Searle (who had also established the London General Omnibus Company) and George Woods-Humphrey, late of Handley Page Transport, Ltd., acquire ?30,000 capital from a group of BSA-Daimler officials, as the division’s name is changed to The Daimler Airway, Ltd. Searle is appointed managing director, Woods-Humphrey becomes general director, and the U. K. Air Ministry agrees to loan the new entrant 6 De Havilland DH-34s and 1 DH-18A originally intended for AT & T. Several pilots are hired at an annual salary of ?1,000.
The first DH-34 is delivered on March 31, 1922. On April 2, the new plane, piloted by G. Ray Hinchliffe, flies the company’s first service, a newspaper delivery from London to Paris. Hinchliffe, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot who wears a pink eye patch as the result of a wartime crash, is among the first to actively promote the mystique of commercial air pilots. It became his habit-some would say eccentricity—to put on a bowler hat at the conclusion of each flight for his walk from his aircraft to the terminal.
Meanwhile, Managing Director Searle attempts to adapt the Daimler Hire vehicle-usage system to the air and plans to obtain 1,000 hours of flying time annually from each de Havilland. Although this will not be feasible, his company will obtain an early reputation for rapid turnaround.
The first collision between two airliners on scheduled flights occurs on April 7. En route to England from Le Bourget field, in poor visibility over Thieuloy-Saint-Antoine, 18 miles north of Beauvais, a Daimler DH-18A on loan from The Instone Air Line, Ltd., piloted by Robin Duke, collides with a Compagnie des Grand Express Aerien Farman F-60 Goliath (seven dead).
In May, a DH-34 makes two return journeys to Paris in one day, allowing Daimler claim to the record of being the first commercial carrier to do so.
On June 2, a DH-34 sets another record by completing five London-Paris return flights in one day. There is steady traffic growth during the summer and, in August, a total of 496 passengers and 13 tons of cargo are transported.
In a DH-34 piloted by Hinchliffe, Managing Director Searle and General Manager Woods-Humphrey survey a prospective Berlin route on September 15-23.
It is now reported that, for its first 6 months, the carrier has transported 1,514 passengers. Operating revenues total ?10,292, with this total increased by government subsidy to ?18,992. Unhappily, expenditures are ?42,350 and the loss is ?23,358.
A revised subsidy scheme is introduced by the government on October 1, under which Daimler is given ?55,000 and is allocated a Manchester-London-Amsterdam-Berlin route. The Wiemar government will block the German extension for months, primarily over the issue of international flying facilities in Germany. Over the next three weeks, Daimler continues to operate a newspaper service to Paris.
London-Rotterdam DH-34 flights, meanwhile, commence on October 9 in cooperation with KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines, N. V.). This service is followed on October 23 by the inauguration of an Amsterdam-London and Manchester DH-34 frequency.
Season tickets are introduced on the England-Holland route in December; booklets of 25 return or 50 one-way tickets are available for ?100.
During the year, a trio of 14-year-old cabin boys, including Jack Sanderson, is sent aloft on Daimler flights to assist passengers. Dressed in “monkey jackets” and with stiff wing collars and bow ties, they thus become the first flight attendants.
In early February 1923, the Parliament’s Civil Air Subsidies Committee, headed by Sir Hebert Hambling, makes a report favoring the merging into one state carrier of all the private British carriers. The Manchester route is extended to Birmingham (for the British Industries Fair) between February 19 and March 2.
On March 14, Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for Air, indicates the U. K. government’s acceptance of the Hambling report and its intention to merge the private airlines when their subsidy contracts expire the following March. Also during the first quarter, General Manager Woods-Humphrey flies to Berlin to personally untie the knots preventing his company’s authorized aerial artery to that German city.
On April 13, flying a DH-34, pilot Hinchliffe inaugurates weekly London to Berlin service via Amsterdam, Bremen, and Hamburg, in collaboration with Deutsche Aero-Lloyd, A. G. The service is operated twice weekly by the British airline, which does not enjoy the traffic it had at the same point a year earlier. On top of this problem in customer turnout is a lack of capacity to cope with large numbers of passengers when they do appear.
Airmail is carried on this first scheduled route between the British and former German capital as of August 13. Meanwhile, a company DH-34 is placed at the disposal of British officials at the International Aeronautical Exposition at Goteborg, July 30-August 12. Frequency on the German route becomes thrice weekly at the end of August.
The first fatal domestic airline accident occurs on September 14 when a DH-34, piloted by L. G. Robinson, crashes near Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire, while en route from London to Manchester; all six aboard are killed, including young Jack Sanderson, the first flight attendant killed in the line of duty. The route from London to Manchester is suspended.
The aircraft involved, G-EBBS, had been tracked by the government and held up to the press as an example of a civil airliner with an intense and safe service record of over 150,000 accident-free miles. Its loss has a negative impact on the U. K. public’s opinion of commercial aviation.
Later in the month, pilot Hinchliffe suffers an engine failure while on a scheduled service, but is able to put down on a small island off Rotterdam. He immediately arranges for his aircraft to be sent to that city by barge and for Daimler to send out a replacement engine on another de Havilland. Hinchliffe’s plane is equipped with navigation lights (not a common feature at the time) and he and his associate take off, flying to Lympne where they land after dark. The two return to London’s Croydon airfield the next morning.
Continuous fog settles over the English Channel at the end of September and beginning of October, preventing Daimler service to Germany. Pilot O. P. Jones, who will later become a noted Imperial Airways, Ltd./BOAC captain, is the only one to make it through, completing one return service to Cologne.
Closed east of Hamburg on October 8, the Berlin service is reopened on November 4, rerouted via Rotterdam and Hanover. This schedule change follows by three days the resumption of flights from London to Manchester. It will be shut down again at the end of the month.
The report of the government’s Civil Air Transport Subsidies Committee results in a final December 3 agreement between the affected parties to nationalize the British air transport industry by purchasing the assets of the independents and merging them into a single state-owned airline. For Daimler, the game is already up; it transports just 23 passengers in December.
If December’s traffic figures were pathetic, those for January 1924 are almost unbelievable—only nine customers are flown. Passenger boardings inch up ever so slightly during February and service between London and Manchester is restarted on March 1.
The Daimler Airways, Ltd. ceases to exist on March 31, when Imperial Airways, Ltd. is formed. Frank Searle becomes managing director of the British government’s “chosen instrument,” with George Woods-Humphrey moving over as general manager.
In its lifetime, Daimler transports a total of 5,796 passengers and generates income of ?113,939. Expenses of ?131,242, are, however, significantly greater and there is a ?17,303 loss.