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Pages from World Bank History: Into the Jet Age

May 23, 2003 -- The mid-1950s saw the introduction of jet aircraft into commercial aviation. The World Bank played a significant role in this process, helping both Qantas and Air India to procure jet aircraft for their national airlines.


Qantas Empire Airways (now Qantas Airways Limited) began as a small internal carrier in 1920 as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited (QANTAS). It initiated its first overseas service in 1934. After the end of World War II Qantas expanded its services and acquired new equipment to meet the increasing demand for air transport. By 1956 the Qantas network of flight services extended 60, 150 miles, including long-haul routes from Australia to Europe and the U.K., Hong Kong – Japan, the west coast of the U.S.A. and Canada, South Africa, the South Pacific Islands. It also conducted short-haul routes from Australia to Papua and New Guinea, as well as internal routes within Papua and New Guinea. In 1956 the Qantas fleet consisted of 33 aircraft, of which thirteen Super-Constellations constituted the core of the fleet. Qantas carried about 63 percent of the air-borne passenger traffic between Australia and the overseas world. The Sydney-London service was the most important route for Qantas.

In order to handle the expected growth of traffic between 1956 and 1962 the company planned to invest the equivalent of over $60,000,000 in the replacement of a number of its aircraft with larger and more efficient jets, in adding new propeller-driven aircraft and in providing for the necessary ground installations.

This program would equip Qantas by 1960 with a fleet of aircraft whose ton-mile capacity would be twice that of its fleet in 1956, with most of the propeller aircraft replaced on the main overseas routes (from Sydney to London, San Francisco-Vancouver, Tokyo, and Johannesburg) by faster, larger jets operating at lower unit costs, and would provide Qantas with essential ground facilities for the new craft and the enlarged fleet. The Boeing 707-138 jet—the acquisition of seven of which formed the centerpiece of the project—had twice the carrying potential of the Super-Constellation it replaced, taking account of speed, payload and range. The new jets would reduce the Sydney-London transit time from 48 hours to 27 hours, and transit time across the Pacific from 28 hours to 16 hours. Four additional propeller-driven Super-Constellations were also acquired.

In addition to the aircraft, Qantas enlarged and modernized its ground installations in Australia. This included the construction of hangars, storage sheds and other buildings, and the provision of new equipment for repair shops and of additional equipment for ground transport at airfields.

The loan from the World Bank for this project amounted to $9,230,000 and was signed on November 15, 1956.

The Boeing 707-138 aircraft were delivered between July and September 1959, ahead of every other airline outside the U.S. Boeing 707-138 services to the U.S. began in July 1959. Two months later the service was extended to London via New York. Sydney-London services via India began in October 1959.

For more information on the history of Qantas see:

Air India

Scheduled airline services in India can be said to have begun on October 15, 1932, when J.R.D. Tata, the Father of Civil Aviation in India and founder of Air India, took off from Karachi in a tiny, light, single-engine aircraft on his flight to Bombay via Ahmedabad. The airline grew over the years, and Tata Airlines was converted into a public company under the name of Air-India in August 1946.

In late 1947 an agreement was reached with the Government of India for the formation of Air India International Limited to operate international services. Air India International, which was registered on March 8, 1948, inaugurated its international services on June 8, 1948, with a weekly flight from Bombay to London via Cairo and Geneva with a Lockheed Constellation aircraft. (The word 'International' was dropped in 1962. Effective March 1, 1994, the airline has been functioning as Air-India Limited.)

The early '50s saw the financial condition of various airlines operating in India deteriorate to such an extent that the government decided to nationalize the air transport industry. Accordingly two autonomous corporations were created on August 1, 1953. Air India International was responsible for all long-range international services under the Indian flag, and Indian Airlines was responsible for all domestic services, plus some short-range services to nearby countries.

Air India and Indian Airlines had a monopoly of scheduled air transport "from, to, in or across India." Air India carried about two thirds of the passenger traffic between India and overseas, and had a flight network of 22,100 route miles. It connected Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras with a) London via Cairo, Rome, Geneva and Paris; b) London via Karachi, Beirut/Damascus, Zurich and Dusseldorf/Prague; c) Tokyo via Bangkok and Hong Kong; d) Sydney via Singapore and Darwin; and e) Nairobi via Aden/Karachi. In 1957 the fleet consisted of eleven Super-Constellations. Air India had also placed a contingent order for the prompt delivery of two new Super-Constellations, conditional on Lockheed’s finding a prompt buyer at a satisfactory price for the three Constellations.

However, Air India needed more aircraft to cope with growing traffic, and to maintain its business share on international routes. It was determined that three new Boeing 707 jets would have the same service capacity as ten Super-Constellations. On January 31, 1957, Air India signed a contract with Boeing for three Boeing 707-437 jets. In addition to the aircraft, the Air India jet project included radio, galley, and other aircraft auxiliaries; nine spare engines; other initial spares and stores; some overhaul facilities, a test cell and other special equipment; and a flight simulator. The loan from the World Bank for $5.6 million was signed on March 5, 1957.

The first Boeing 707-437 was received in February 1960. This marked the airline’s entry into the jet age. It also enabled Air India to extend its Bombay-London service to New York in May 1960. This was a major step in the airline’s steady expansion into new markets.

For information on Air India see:

Without records there is no history. Courtesy of ISG’s World Bank Group Archives.


Qantas Airways jet liner



Qantas Airways jet liner




Air India International VT-JN Boeing 707



Signing of the loan agreement for Loan 0161 to Air India on March 5, 1957. Present were (left to right): Honorable H. Dayal of the Embassy of India; President Eugene Black of the World Bank, and Mr. E.T. Warren on behalf of the borrower.


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