There were four airlines, all very familiar names, that flew through Foynes. They each have a great history. They all have a unique connection though Foynes airport from the flying boat days.
Pan American Airways
Pan Am was founded in 1927 by Juan Trippe. It primarily operated as a seaplane service and built up its business by buying smaller airline companies along the coast of the Americas and securing governmental postal delivery contracts.
Pan Am initially used Sikorsky S-40 flying boats, but in 1936 Pan Am asked the Boeing Company to design the first commercial Atlantic aircraft–the Boeing B314, of which Pan Am had six, allowing them to have a regular weekly transatlantic passenger and air mail service over the Atlantic with a single fare costing $375.
Formed in 1924 following the merging of four smaller companies, Imperial Airways later merged with British Airways to become BOAC on 1st April 1940. Imperial Airways was the first airline to show a film for passengers en route. They provided most of the ground services at Foynes—for themselves and for the two American Airlines—Pan Am and American Export.
Nearly all the air traffic across the Atlantic was between America and Britain but during the war, many of these flights terminated at Foynes. Flights from England to Lisbon and West Africa also went through Foynes to avoid the Luftwaffe danger zone around the Bay of Biscay.
American Export Airlines
A subsidiary of American Export Shipping, American Export Airlines was founded in 1937, and despite objections from Pan Am, they received their licence to fly non-stop to Europe. In 1939 American Export (AEA) ordered three Vought-Sikorsky VS-44 flying boat aircraft for $2,100,000.
That same year, AEA made an application for routes across the Atlantic to the UK, France and Portugal, and despite protests by Juan Trippe, President Roosevelt gave his approval. AEA could not begin their New York–Foynes flying boat service until June of 1942, due in part to stiff resistance from Pan Am. Following interest, American Airlines bought them out in 1945, and formed American Overseas Airlines (AOA).
Air France Transatlantique
Air France was formed on 7 October 1933 from a merger of Air Orient, Air Union, Compagnie Générale Aéropostale, Compagnie Internationale de Navigation Aérienne (CIDNA), and Société Générale de Transport Aérien (SGTA). Their Latécoère 521’s, a 40 ton flying boat with 162ft wingspan and 30 passenger capacity, arrived in Foynes.
Routing over Bordeaux, the Latécoère flew up the Bay of Biscay making its landfall at Cork. The purpose of its flight was to look at available airfields in Ireland for a proposed transatlantic flight by a four engined Farman land plane. The crews admired the efficiency of the radio and weather devices at Foynes. However, after September 1939 the war stopped Air France’s transatlantic activity.
There is more detail on Airlines, Arircraft, Foynes Airport, and much more besides, in our souvenir book available at the gift shop in the museum and in our on-line shop.