Four airlines—all familiar names today—flew through Foynes. Each has its own fascinating history and a unique connection to Foynes Airport from the flying boat days.
Pan American Airways
Pan Am was founded in 1927 by Juan Trippe. It primarily operated as a flying boat service and built its business by buying smaller airline companies along the coast of the Americas and securing government postal delivery contracts.
Pan Am initially used Sikorsky S-40 flying boats. In 1936, the airline asked the Boeing Company to design a new commercial Atlantic flying boat, the Boeing 314. Pan Am ordered 12, and sold 3 to BOAC, allowing for weekly transatlantic passenger and air mail service over the Atlantic with a single fare costing $375.
Formed in 1924 following the merger of four smaller companies, Imperial Airways later merged with British Airways to become BOAC on 1 April 1940. Imperial Airways was the first airline to show a film to passengers en route. It provided most of the ground services at Foynes, for themselves and 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 (AEA) was founded in 1937. Despite objections from Pan Am, it received license to fly nonstop to Europe. In 1939, American Export ordered three Vought-Sikorsky VS-44 flying boat aircraft for $2,100,000.
That same year, AEA applied 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 521s, a 40-ton flying boat with a 162-foot wingspan and 30-passenger capacity, flew into in Foynes.
Routing over Bordeaux, the Latécoère flew up the Bay of Biscay, making landfall at Cork. The purpose of its flight was to look at available airfields in Ireland for a proposed transatlantic flight by a four-engine Farman landplane. 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.