An airline is a company that provides air transport services for traveling passengers and freight. Airlines lease or own their aircraft with which to supply these services and may form partnerships or alliances with other airlines for mutual benefit. Generally, airline companies are recognized with an air operating certificate or license issued by a governmental aviation body.
Airlines vary from those with a single aircraft carrying mail or cargo, through full-service international airlines operating hundreds of aircraft. Airline services can be categorized as being intercontinental, intra-continental, domestic, regional, or international, and may be operated as scheduled services or charters.
American aviation pioneers, such as Rufus Porter and Frederick Marriott, attempted to start airlines using airships in the mid-19th century, focusing on the New York–California route. Those attempts floundered due to such mishaps as the airships catching fire and the aircraft being ripped apart by spectators. DELAG, Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft was the world's first airline. It was founded on November 16, 1909 with government assistance, and operated airships manufactured by The Zeppelin Corporation. Its headquarters were in Frankfurt. The four oldest non-dirigible airlines that still exist are Netherlands' KLM, Colombia's Avianca, Australia's Qantas, and the Czech Republic's Czech Airlines. KLM first flew in May 1920, while Qantas (which stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited) was founded in Queensland, Australia, in late 1920.
The first countries in Europe to embrace air transport were Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
The earliest airline organization, a British group called Aircraft Transport and Travel, was formed by George Holt Thomas on 5 October 1916. He acquired several Airco D.H.4a VIII single-engine planes (designed by Geoffrey De Havilland), powered by 350-horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle engines, and modified them to include an enclosed cramped space in the fuselage with room for two adventurous passengers. The service operated relief flights between Folkestone and Ghent. On 15 July 1919, the company flew a proving flight with an enterprising photographer on board across the English Channel, despite a lack of support from the British government. Flown by Lt. H Shaw in an Airco DH.9 between RAF Hendon and Paris - Le Bourget Airport, the flight took 2 hours and 30 minutes, and cost £21.