3/31/1974: British Airways Begins Operations

Four British companies, BOAC, BEA, Cambrian Airways, and Northeast Airlines, merged today in 1974 to form British Airways.



March 31, 2024

DALLAS — Today, in 1974, four British companies, BOAC, BEA, Cambrian Airways, and Northeast Airlines, merged to form British Airways (BA).

In January 2011, the British flag carrier merged with Iberia (IB), creating the International Airlines Group (IAG), a holding company registered in Madrid, Spain. In 2013, BA became the first commercial airline in Europe to operate the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Regarding annual sales, IAG is the world's third-largest airline group and the second-largest in Europe. Worth noting is that BA is the first passenger airline to receive more than US$1bn on a single flight route in a single year (from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018) on the New York JFK-London Heathrow (LHR) route.

BA remains the second-largest UK-based carrier, based on fleet size and passengers carried, behind easyJet (U2). Before its retirement in 2020, it was the world's largest Boeing 747-400 operator. The carrier has its home base at LHR and flies to more than 170 destinations in 70 countries.

All of the BA heritage liveries at LHR. Photo: British Airways

British Airways: A Brief History

British Airways was created in 1974 after the British government established a British Airways Board to manage the two nationalized airline corporations, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British European Airways (BEA), as well as two aforementioned British regional airlines. Despite essentially merging the four firms to form BA in 1974, the airline celebrated its centennial in 2019, based on predecessor companies.

The carrier ordered two British Aerospace 748s shortly after the merger, with delivery scheduled in Scotland. The 748s would begin replacing the aging Viscount and supporting North Sea exploration the year after. The first Lockheed Tristar arrived in October but did not enter service until January 1975 because of industrial problems.

On January 21, the world's first passenger supersonic services were inaugurated. Concurrently, BA flew to Bahrain (Concorde G-BOAA) and Air France (AF) to Rio de Janeiro via Dakar. Concorde flights to Washington Dulles (IAD) began on May 24, but problems with noise levels postponed operations at New York's JFK airport. In June, BA's first two Boeing 747-236s were delivered.

Wearing the BEA heritage livery for the airline's centenary is Airbus A319 (G-EUPJ). Photo: Francesco Cecchetti/Airways

Privatization, Acquisitions, Alliances

British Airways was privatized in February 1987, after nearly 13 years as a state-owned enterprise, as part of a larger privatization program set forth by the then-Conservative government.

British Caledonian (BR), Dan-Air (DA), and British Midland International (BD) were all acquired by the carrier in 1987, 1992, and 2012. Since several of its destinations in many regions were traditionally part of the British Empire, BA's preeminence emphasizes the country's reach globally.

The carrier is a founding member of the Oneworld airline alliance, along with American Airlines (AA), Cathay Pacific (CX), Qantas (QF), and the now-defunct Canadian Airlines. The alliance has since become the third-largest after SkyTeam and Star Alliance.

Featured image: British Airways Boeing 747-436 (G-BNLY), Landor livery. Photo: Misael Ocasio Hernandez/Airways. Check out our October 2016 issue: Ken Donohue takes flight on a BA Boeing 747-400.