Early airline companies in Spain (1918-1924)

By: Rob Mulder

One of Europe’s largest monarchies is the Kingdom of Spain (España). The long time preceding the Great War (1914-18) Spain was one of the leading powers in Europe and for that matter in the world. The country remained neutral during the Great War and suffered domestically during the period of 1923-30 under the dictatorship of General Primo de Riveras. After the forced abdication of King Alfonsa XIII in 1931 the Spanish Republic (República Española) was proclaimed. The upraise of Nationalists under the leadership of General Sanjurjo and General Franco in July 1936 led to the outbreak of the bloodiest Civil War in Europe for centuries. It would last until 1939 and ending with General Franco’s victory and establishing of a new Spanish order. The country was a dictatorship up to Franco’s death in 1975. Since then Spain is a democratic Kingdom under the leadership of the popular King Juan Carlos.

Aviation has inspired many Spaniards. In 1783 Viera Clavijo constructed the first balloon. It ascended at Madrid. This event was followed by an ascent of the first manned observation balloon on 3 November 1792. The first Spaniard flying extensively abroad was Martinez Díaz, who made numerous ascends in free balloons in Brazil, Colombia, Portugal and Venezuela.

The Reales Aéro Club de España (the Royal Aero Club of Spain) saw its birth in 1905. Spain remained a balloon nation with several flights throughout the years preceding the Great War.

Without doubt one of the best Spanish balloon designs was the constructed in 1907 by Torres Quevedo, whom design was taken over by the French Astra-firm and built under licence. It was therefore not strange at all that in the beginning of the twenties plans took shape to start up regular intercontinental air routes with rigid airships.

The first Spanish designed aircraft was constructed by Antonia Fernández and exhibited at the Salon de l’Aeronautique in Paris in 1909. It would, however, take another year before the first powered aircraft with a Spaniard on board left Spanish soil. This honour can be given to Benito Loygorri. 1911 saw the formation of the Servicio de Aéronautica Militar – the Military Air Service, followed in 1917 by the formation of an aviation section of the Navy. During the Great War Hispano-Suiza at Barcelona designed one of the most successful aero engines (a 140 hp engine), which was to be mass-produced in Barcelona and under licence in France.

After the Great War and despite the huge numbers of surplus Allied aircraft Spanish designers were encouraged to produce new aircraft. A number of aircraft designs were produced but none reached impressive production figure, or production at all.

Right after the Great War private enterprises started preparation of airline companies. Especially after the first steps for the organisation of Civil Aviation were set, when the Real Decreto (Royal Degree) of 25 November 1919 determined the conditions under which one could fly over Spanish territory. A new Royal Degree followed this on 13 December that year concerning regulation of air custom.

The Civil Aviation was put under the Directorate of Commerce, part of the Minister of Public Works.

Civil Aviation and Civil Air Register

Spain adopted the letter “M” (for Monarchy) for its aircraft registered up to 1931. The Air Register was constructed as follows:

M-A and M-C = Civil aircraft

M-M = Military Aircraft

M-N = Naval aircraft

M-EA = Civil free balloons

M-EM = Military free balloons

M-EN = Naval free balloons

M-DA = Civil airships

M-DM = Military airships

M-DN = Naval airships.

After the formation of the Spanish Republic (1931) the system was changed. The letter “M” was replaced by EC (España Civil), followed by a combination of three letters. Aircraft that had to be ferried from abroad to Spain carried a temporary registration: EC-, combined with W and two numbers.

Red de Hidroaviones del Cantábrico – RHC


Formed in 1919 (or 1920) as one of the first Spanish airline companies. It was situated in the Basque city of Bilbao, in the north of Spain. The aim of the company was to open an air service by flying boats from Biarritz (France) to San Sebastian and Bilbao to Santander. In order to achieve this goal the company started a co-operation with the French airline company Compagnie des Transports Aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest, which possessed aircraft and had operated since August 1919 a service between Biarritz and Bordeaux. This airline company was during the winter re-organised into the Compagnie Franco-Bilbaïne de Transports Aéronautiques and RHC became the general agent for the French company in Spain. During the summer of 1920 CFB operated the air service between Bayonne and Bilbao, which turned out to be a mixed success. During the winter of 1920-21 the service was closed down, but resumed on 5 April again. In 1921 it was prolonged to Santander, but low traffic led to a closure of the service at the end of 1921. The French partner ceased to exist and after this RHC was dissolved as well.

Sociedad Anónima Española Latécoère


Founded in 1920 as a branch office of the Lignes Aérienne Latécoère to secure the French interests in Spain for the scheduled Toulouse – Barcelona – Alicante – Málaga – Tanger – Rabat air service. Two Spaniards are involved as well. Formed to fulfil the Spanish demand of a local representative, rather than a French office at the Spanish airports, which Lignes Aérienne Latécoère served. Due to the Spanish-French conflict over Morocco, the company was never used and dissolved that year or latest 1921.

Compañía Aéromaritima Mallorquina Sociedad Anónima – CAMSA


On June 28, 1910 aviation started on Las Baleares (the Balearic Islands), when the French aviator Lucien Mamet made the first flight off the island. The flight was followed, when on July 2, 1916 the Spaniard Salvador Hedilla with his aircraft Vendome made the first crossing of the sea between the port of Barcelona on the northeast side of the Iberian Peninsula and the group of islands situated out. After the Great War it was again a French pilot who dared to cross the seas and fly to the islands. This time Greco flew from Perpignan in France on a direct flight to Palma de Mallorca.

Furthermore, Spain and its strategic position in the Mediterranean area led to the private initiative to start an air service between the country and Italy. Behind the initiative were beside the Spaniard Jorge Loring some Mediterranean shipbuilders. An association was formed in the beginning of 1920 called Asociacion de Navieros del Mediterraneo (Association of the Navigation in the Mediterranean) headed by the President Pedro Garcia. The plan was to operate with new Savoia-flying-boats a 195-km-long service between Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca, leaving Barcelona at 9.30 am in connection with the night train from Madrid. Within three quarters of an hour the islands could be reached. Later connections to Valencia and Alicante would have to be established as well. The Barcelona based company Talleres Hereter S.A. had a División Aeronáutica (Areal Division), which was headed by the talented Jorge Loring (he can be seen on the left side of the picture). The company became general agent for the French airline company Lignes Aériennes Latécoère, which Spanish representative was Beppo de Massimi. Loring sat up a series of trial flight between the mainland and the islands. Talleres Hereter S.A. purchased in Italy the Savoia S.9 flying boat and hired two Italian pilots named Guido Janello and Umberto Guarnieri. On the Balearic Islands the Spanish editor of the magazine Ultima Hora (final hour), José Tous Ferrer, got interested in the matter as well and was convinced that the air service would be a success. Meanwhile, Guido Janello flew the first Savoia S.9 from Sesto Calende (Italia) via Milano to Marseille and Barcelona, where the aircraft arrived on February 15. On February 26, 1920 the Ministerio de la Gobernación (the Home Office) decided the conditions for the establishment of an air service between Sevilla and Larache, Málaga and Melilla and Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca. With an aircraft on place, the Talleres Hereter SA could now start the trial flights between the two cities. On March 18 at 11.30 am Jorge Loring and the photographer Jose Maria Co de Triola boarded the Savoia S.9 together with its pilot Guido Janello for the first trial flight. The arrival at Palma de Mallorca was at 12.40 noon. After the official welcome, the aircraft returned for Barcelona at 3.45 pm, with arrival there at 4.40 pm. When Umberto Guarnieri made on April 3 the second flight with the same aircraft an accident took place.

In July 1920 companies interested in operating one of the earlier mentioned air services could tender for the concession, but by January 1921 Talleres Hereter S.A. withdrew from the civil aviation front and was no longer interested in operating an air service to the Balearic Islands.

On March 29, 1921 the Compañia Aéromaritima Mallorquina Sociedad Anónima – CAMSA was formed with its seat in the city of Palma de Mallorca. President of the Board of Directors became Joaquín Gual de Torrella, while José Tous Ferrer was appointed Managing Director. CAMSA purchased in Italy the newly developed Savoia S.16 flying boat, which the Chief Pilot, Manuel Colomer Llopis, picked up in Sesto Calende and flew over to Palma de Mallorca on May 31. During a ceremony at Es Jonquet (the airport for seaplanes at Palma de Mallorca) it was christened Mallorca. In order to earn some money the sole pilot of the CAMSA, Manuel Colomer, made some joy ride flights. On one of these flights (on August 16), the aircraft crashed, injuring the pilot and destroying the new aircraft.

In September 1921 (the concession for the air service Barcelona – Palma de Mallorca was still not issued) the Department of Post and Telegraph published the subsidy, which a company could count on for the route to the Balearics. It was set at 6 Pesetas per flown kilometre with a maximum of 1,200 Pesetas per flight. The aircraft used must be able to carry 300 kg and fly at an average speed of 165 kmh. On October 4 the CAMSA presented to the Department of Post and Telegraph its tender for the air service. It competed with another Spanish airline company carrying the name Compañia Española de Tráfico Aéreo – CETA run by Jorge Loring. It took just over one month (November 17, 1921) before the CAMSA-application was approved and the company could start to fly the air route between Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca.

CAMSA’s general assembly decided to built two hangars at Es Jonquet and contract pilots and engineers. Joaquín Gual de Torrella was elected President of the Board of Directors and with Jerónimo Pou Magraner as vice-president. Later the Board of Directors decided to purchase new Macchi M.18 flying boats for the scheduled services and the first aircraft arrived at Palma de Mallorca on February 9, 1922 with Cesare Tizzi as pilot. Manuel Colomer Llopis and Arturo Zanetti flew the next aircraft to Spain, which arrived two days after the first aircraft. In March the first of two newly ordered Savoia S.16 was delivered. All aircraft had Spanish registrations, but of the Macchi M.18, only M-ADAD could be confirmed. The third Macchi M.18 was delivered by the Italian pilot Giovanni Bosco on March 14. At a ceremony at the company’s flying base at Palma de Mallorca, the aircraft were christened. The Savoia S.16s were christened respectively Mallorca and Palma, while the Macchi M.18 were christened Barcelona, Menorca and Ibiza. The ceremony took place one day before the official opening of the air service to Barcelona. At 10 am on 20 March, the Macchi M.18 Ibiza took off for the inaugural flight of the new airmail service Palma de Mallorca – Barcelona. But just minutes after the take-off the Ministerio de Fomento (the ministry of Trade), responsible for the security of the aircraft in Spain, suspended the service, as the aircraft were not technically checked nor approved nor certified. Until April 7 no flights could be made. But the next day all aircraft were released and CAMSA could re-open its route. The Macchi M.18 Ibiza with Manuel Colomer Llopis and Cesare Tizzi started in Barcelona, while Alessandro Passaleva and Alejandro Duró with the Macchi M.18 Barcelona left Palma de Mallorca.

But disaster stroke again. On April 9 the Mediterranean vessel Margarita Taberner found the remains of the missing Macchi M.18 Barcelona, which was lost at sea killing CAMSA’s chief pilot, Manuel Colomer Llopis. Again the air service was suspended and the company was re-organised. Alessandro Passaleva took over the position of chief pilot of CAMSA and a new Savoia S.16 was delivered and named Manuel Colomer to commemorate the former chief pilot.

It was not until June 20 before the service could be resumed with the Savoia S.16 Manuel Colomer. The last aircraft delivered in 1922 arrived on June 26 and was again a Savoia S.16, which was christened Miramar.  A further incident occurred on August 15 when the Macchi M.18 Barcelona was forced down on the seas after an engine stalled. Giovanni Bosco and Alejandro Duró managed to land the aircraft on sea. After repair the aircraft continued, but this incident led to the decision by José Tous Ferrer to ask for a suspension of the flights in order to be able to re-organise the company. On August 16 all services were discontinued.

Gradually the link with Italy was changed in favour of one with France. CAMSA felt into a deep sleep until Compagnie Générale d’Entreprises Aeronautiques – Lignes Aériennes Latécoère offered help. The French company obtained 400 shares and became the major shareholder of the CAMSA. On 25 November 1922 the contract was signed during a meeting at Palma de Mallorca under supervision of Pierre-Georges Latécoère and Beppo de Massimi. It was decided to upgrade the security of the company and only use aircraft, which carried a radio on board. Furthermore, CGEA would supply the Spanish airline company with three brand new Loiré et Olivier LeO H-13A amphibians, which were to be delivered to CGEA in the beginning of 1923. The French pilot Georges Clerc and radio-operator Juan Munar transferred the first LeO H-13A from France to Palma de Mallorca on April 12. The LeO H-13 was originally designed at the beginning of 1922 as a twin-engined biplane specifically made for the French airline company Aeronavale. The prototype had two Spanish constructed Hispano Suiza engines of each 150 hp. The cabin offered accommodation to four passengers and two pilots (in an open cockpit).

Achille Enderlin, chief pilot of Société Industrielle d’Aviation Latécoère – SIDAL, replaced the chief pilot of CAMSA. The aim of the French company was also to establish a Franco-Spanish air service Marseille – Barcelona – Palma de Mallorca – Alger in Northern Africa and get beside a French, also a Spanish subsidy.

The delivery of the first LeO H-13A was in February 1923, followed by the remaining two soon afterwards. Upon arrival in Spain they received the registration M-ABAB, M-ACAC and M-AEAE. On March 7, Achille Enderlin and engineer Gauthier performed the first trial flight over the new route, but also the LeO H-13A had their problems. Already on 12 April Clerc and Munar with the LeO H-13A (Fleet-number 22) had to make an extra-ordinary landing on sea caused by a problem of one of the engines. After repair in Palma de Mallorca it continued back to Barcelona where it encountered again engine problems.

On May 16, 1923 the French company had made a trial flight in co-operation with CAMSA over the air route Marseille – Barcelona – Palma de Mallorca – Alger (900 km). CGEA used the Breguet 14 from Marseille to Barcelona, while CAMSA operated the Loiré et Olivier LeO H-13A from Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca and Alger. Departure from Marseille was at 4 am with arrival at Barcelona at 6 am. Departure from Barcelona was set at 8.30 am with arrival at Palma de Mallorca at approx. 11 am. In the afternoon, after the siesta, the aircraft departed at 2.40 pm for Alger, where it arrived at approximately 4 pm. The first flight between Marseille and Barcelona was performed by Achille Enderlin in a Breguet 14 and a Loiré et Olivier H-13A. It was not until June 6, 1923 that CAMSA and CGEA opened the Barcelona – Palma de Mallorca – Alger route. The first flight was flown by Achille Enderlin and with Beppo de Massimi (by now managing director of the CAMSA) and Julien Pranville (responsible for the infrastructure and material of CGEA) as passengers. But only two of the three LeO H-13As were used: Fleet-number 23 and 24 (M-AEAE).

But the Spanish Government was not interested in supporting the air route financially and on June 28 Pierre-Georges Latécoère decided to suspend all services of CAMSA. The costs for the air service were too high and CGEA withdrew from CAMSA, which went into receivership in July 1923. The LeO H-13A returned to CGEA, but the fate of the Macchi M.18 is not known. In stead CGEA opened on March 12, 1924 another, but now direct service between Alicante and Oran. The facilities at Palma de Mallorca (at Es Jonquet) were in November that year used as intermediate stop for the Junker J 13, D 191 Marabú, which was on its way from Napoli to Barcelona, but it was not until 1934 until Palma de Mallorca was served by a regular air service. In that year LAPE  opened an air service to Balearic.

Compañía Española de Tráfico Aéreo – CETA


The city of El-Araish, situated in the north of the present Kingdom of Morocco, came under Spanish rule for the first time in 1610 and again in the beginning of the last century, in 1912. Today the Arabic name is used, but during the inter-war period the city was known as Larache. It was here the so-called Protectorado Espanol en Marruecos (Spanish Protectorate in Morocco) started, which continued along the Strait of Gibraltar to the Spanish enclave Melilla at the Mediterranean. Later a strip of land called Tarfaya was added and in 1934 Spain took also possession of the city of Ifni and the Spanish Sahara.

For Spain it was important to open an air service to both Larache and Melilla. But before this could be done, many wars had to be fought. Famous is the defeat of the Spanish Army in July 1921 by the Berber Abd el-Krim, which led to the formation of the Republic of the Rif. It was not until French aid in May 1926 arrived that Abd el-Krim had to surrender. That means that the war lasted for nearly five years. Melilla remained in Spanish hands. But an air service to this unstable area was for the moment out of the question. Larache on the contrary, was a free city at an early stage.

But before an air service could be opened, the Spanish Government wanted to set up the guidelines along which the air service was to be operated. The Ministerio de la Gobernación (the Home Office) approved these rules on February 26, 1920. It was decided to operate three air services: Barcelona – Palma de Mallorca, Sevilla – Larache and Málaga – Melilla. It was felt important that air services were first set up connecting the motherland with the two nearest situated new cities: Larache and Melilla. The Ministry wanted the aircraft to be able to carry 300 kg of mail and fly at a speed of 200 kmh. The services were put up for tender and companies and individuals could make a bit for a concession. One of the applicants was the aviation department of the Barcelona-based Talleres Hereter S.A., which director, Jorge Loring, conducted the paper work for the concession. The Talleres Hereter S.A. was given the concession, but this company formed an airline company, which could operate the service. On June 25, 1921 a number of notabilities came together in Madrid to form the Compañia Española de Tráfico Aéreo – CETA. The stock-capital was Pts. 1,000,000, divided over 2000 shares of each Pts. 500. Among the supporters of the company were Bernardino Melgar and Marqués de Piedras Albas. The Board of Directors was headed by the Marqués de Piedras Albas, who was assisted by vice-president Vizconde de Priego, and the members Fernando Sartorius, Conde de San Luís and with Felipe Comabella as secretary. Jorge Loring was appointed managing director and as Chief of the air service Juan Viniegra Aréjula was asked. The post of director of the air service was given to Eduardo Barrón. Several of these persons had great political influence and were respected throughout Spain. When on August 1, 1921 the concession holder was announced, it was therefore no wonder that Talleres Hereter S.A. was given a five-year concession for the air service Sevilla – Larache. But before the CETA could fly, the concession had to be written over from Talleres Hereter S.A. to CETA. This was finalized on September 30.

Another contract was signed between the CETA and the Air Disposal Co Ltd in the United Kingdom (UK) for the delivery of three Airco D.H.9-aircraft. The aircraft saw already widespread use in Spain. The D.H.9 was loved because of his capability to cover large distances. When the more powerful new design, D.H.9A, arrived this aircraft turned out to be a classic aircraft. After the Great War some were modified into civil aircraft, by placing a canapé on the rear cockpit, where subsequently two passengers could take place. In 1919 the Aeronáutica Militar (the Air Force of the Army) obtained sixteen military surplus aircraft, while the Spanish aircraft factory La Hispano also built the type under licence in Spain. But the aircraft CETA ordered came directly from the UK. On September 19 the first two aircraft were transferred from London via San Sebastian to Sevilla, where they were allotted the registrations M-AAAG and M-AAGA. Two British pilots flew the aircraft: Alan Cobham and F J Ortweiler. The last ordered D.H.9C was delivered by Charles Barnard on October 7 and this aircraft was allotted the Spanish registration M-AGAA.

With three aircraft on place the route could be opened, but before the ceremony could take, CETA had to hire pilots to fly the aircraft. Since Spanish pilots were not at hand, three British pilots were signed up: Jack Hatchett, Sydney St Barbe and Charles F Wolley Dod. They would continue to fly on the service until Spanish pilots were available. On October 15 the Airco D.H.9C, M-AGAA, inaugurated Spain’s first official airmail service. The aircraft were for the occasion christened by the Archbishop of Sevilla on the names Sevilla, Algeciras and Larache. The son of Geoffrey De Havilland, Hereward De Havilland, together with the photographer Alonso and the vice-president of the CETA Fernando Sartorius as passengers flew from Madrid to Sevilla with the Airco D.H.9C, M-AGAA, to witness the departure of the first flight to Larache. The British pilot Jack Hatchett was the one chosen to fly the first Spanish airmail from Sevilla to Larache flying the Airco D.H.9C, M-AAAG Sevilla. Behind him in the second cockpit were Fernando Sartorius and the journalist Galarza from the Madrid newspaper El Sol, who was to write an article on the flight for his newspaper.

The route was flown on a daily basis, though no flights on Sundays. The schedule was:

11.00 am               dep         Sevilla            arr. 4.45 pm

12.45 noon            arr          Larache          dep.3.00 pm

It must be said that in the years 1921-25 the results obtained on the air service were very good. This was not only because of the stable weather conditions in this part of the world, but also because of the reliable Airco D.H.9Cs. On the 250 km long air service the following results were obtained:

1922: 339 roundtrips (approximately 169,500 km flown);

1923: 340 roundtrips (approximately 170,000 km flown);

1924: 341 roundtrips (approximately 170,500 km flown); and

1925: 353 roundtrips (approximately 176,500 km flown).

Each year the three aircraft carried some 4 million letters. The correct traffic results are unknown, as are the number of passengers carried. During these well four years only one accident occurred. But these statistics were not quite right, as it did not mention the regularity. Many flights were delayed due to bad weather at either end of the route and extra-ordinary landings were made after which the airmail had to be carried further by train.

In 1922, the Sociedad Colón Transaeréa Española was formed, backed by among others the Aero Union from Germany. Also Jorge Loring backed this company, which wanted to operate an air ship service between Sevilla and Buenos Aires in Argentina. Jorge Loring was interested in extending the network to include domestic air services and wanted German support for this. One of the shareholders of the German Aero Union was Claude Dornier, who offered his newly designed all-metal Dornier Komet I (also known as Dornier C.III Komet I) to the CETA for operation over the Sevilla – Larache air service. This aircraft had made it first flight in 1921 and was powered by one 185 hp BMW IIIa engine. Two Dornier Komet Is were registered as respectively M-AAIA and M-AAAI, but if they were used by CETA could not be confirmed. In October 1922 an additional Dornier Komet II (an improved version of the Komet I, with a 250 hp BMW IV-engine) was taken over and registered as M-ATAA Correo (c/n 2-23). It was used by CETA on its air service, but seems not to have been used too much.

During the period 1921-25 only one serious accident was registered. On October 23, 1922, the Airco D.H.9C, M-AAAG Sevilla en route to Larache crashed near Tánger. The Spanish pilot Juan José Estegui and his passenger were both killed. They were to be the first victims of the Spanish civil aviation. By October 1923 the company possessed four aircraft (three D.H.9Cs and one Dornier Komet II) and employed four mechanics and three pilots. In 1923, CETA needed replacement for the lost Airco D.H.9C, M-AAAG and bought in the UK another two Airco D.H.9, now of the type D.H.9B. Both were delivered in June and registered as M-AAGG Santa Teresa and M-AGAG.

But Jorge Loring was a Spaniard with a great passion for aviation in Spain and with far-reaching visions of how the development of aviation in Spain should be. Already on January 22, 1922, just three month after the opening of CETAs air service, he started talks with the government to be allowed to reconstruct the air route and start to transport goods, newspapers and passengers beside airmail. He wanted CETA to be allowed to operate non-subsidized domestic air services and scheduled to open Madrid – Írun, Madrid – Valencia de Alcántara, Madrid – Barcelona – Port Bou and Madrid – Sevilla. On March 22 his request was awarded with a concession on the applied routes, but none were ever opened by CETA. Lack of a suitable aircraft was the main reason. In October the company received one Dornier Komet II (M-ATAA, named Correo, which is Spanish for courier), but an air service on the awarded routes was never opened.

The Spanish Government, certainly also because of lobbying of Jorge Loring, announced on February 5, 1925 the wish to extend the Sevilla – Larache air service to the Canary Islands. On April 22, CETA was awarded the concession to operate the non-subsidized service Sevilla – Larache – Casablanca – Las Palmas – Tenerife. A suitable aircraft was however not at hand and the air route subsequently not opened.

At the end of 1925 there was only one year left before the concession for the air route Sevilla – Larache ran out and the CETA had to apply for an extension. Awaiting the re-organisation of the conditions of flying air services in Spain, CETA was allowed to continue to operate the air service until further notice. But the problems for CETA were the new rules after which the Spanish companies would have to operate: All personnel were to have the Spanish nationality and 75 % of the stock capital was to be in Spanish hands. Also Spanish constructed aircraft were to be used. It was given a change again and received a last warning in December 1926 but the company never opened a service from Sevilla to Las Palmas and Santa Cruz on Tenerife and missed in August 1927 its concession. The company was subsequently dissolved. The fleet had by then already been taken over by the Compañía Aérea Jorge Loring – CAJL.

Compañía Transaeréa Española Sociedad Anónima – Colón


Meanwhile another form of air transport arose in Spain: the airships. Already in 1907 the first Spanish built airship was built. It was a huge success, being built under licence in France by the Astra-firm. After the Great War the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin G.m.b.H. from Friedrichshafen, Germany, was interested in starting to use their airships for civil use and after the completion of the Bodensee, the factory’s airship company, Deutsche Luftschiffahrts Aktien-Gesellschaft – DELAG, started with a service from Friedrichshafen to Berlin. But DELAG wanted to extend it from Friedrichshafen into Switzerland and beyond and from Berlin to Stockholm in Sweden.

The company already studied the possibility to extend it all the way to Brazil or Argentina, as a route over the South Atlantic was with regard to the meteorological situation in this area more favourable than a North Atlantic route. But for this purpose an airship company in Spain had to be formed. The reason were:

  1. Lack of an Air Agreement between Germany and Spain made the crossing of Spain and the vital transfer point at the Canary Islands impossible.
  2. The northwest coast of the African Continent was also Spanish controlled area.
  3. The French Government would not allow German Zeppelins to cross France either. A Spanish company would not face that problem.

The first contact between Friedrichshafen and a Spanish Consortium dated from the autumn of 1919. The plans which developed out of these contacts were first brought out in September 1921 when the Zeppelin Werke AG announced that it studied to possibility of opening a service from Cadiz in the south of Spain to Buenos Aires in Argentina. At Cadiz a gas station and workshop would have to be erected to serve the airships. A German committee travelled to Spain to prepare the foundation and establish an aerodrome for the scheduled service. In addition a study trip to Argentina was organised in 1921 to secure landing rights and suitable landing grounds.

In February 1922 the Aero Union AG and Zeppelin Werke AG founded the Südamerikanische Gesellschaft Zeppelin. The Sociedad Colón Transaeréa Española soon succeeded this company. The company was formed on September 16, 1922 with a stock capital of Pts. 80,000,000. The capital was divided over the following two groups of shareholders:

Spanish and German industry                             Pts.50 mill. = 62.5 %

Spanish and Argentinian Government               Pts.30 mill. = 37.5 %

3-4 airships were under construction when the foundation of the company took place: Two Zeppelins each with a length of 250 m and two Spanish built airships, designated SCA 1 and SCA 2 with each a length of 130 m. The German rigid airships were LZ 121 Nordstern and LZ 126. The Nordstern was finished in 1921 but was taken over by the French as war compensation on June 13, 1921. The LZ 126 was finished in 1924 and also taken as war compensation. This time by the Americans, who took it to the USA where it became ZR3 Los Angeles. The two Spanish built rigid airships were SCA 1 and SCA 2 and were finished in 1922. They had a length of 130 m and a volume of 53,000 cu ft.

At Sevilla the construction of three hangars had started, which would be able to house two Zeppelins with a length of 250 m and one with a length of 144 m. At Buenos Aires a further two hangars were planned as well: one of 300 m x 90 m x 50 m. and one 280 m x 50 m x 50 m. A schedule was set up where the distance between Spain and Argentina would be covered within 3 days and 16 hours, while the return would take 4 days and 6 hours. The Zeppelins would fly between the Canary Islands and Argentina, while the smaller airships would serve on the service to Sevilla.

In February 1926 the Spanish Government initiated an Air Conference in Madrid to be scheduled for the autumn of that year. On this Air Conference questions with regard to the scheduled airship service between Europe and South-America were to discuss. In the first week of November the Iberian-American Air Congress in Madrid was held and here it was decided to open a service Sevilla – Buenos Aires. Furthermore, a school for the training of airship crews was to be established in Lisboa, Portugal. During the Congress in Madrid an airship exhibition was held as well.

On February 12, 1927 the Spanish Government, by a Royal Degree, granted the Compañia Transaeréa Española Sociedad Anónima – Colón a monopoly of 40 years with an option on another 10 years. Within the following 4 years the company had to have established the service to Argentina flying once a month one return flight. For each successful crossing the Colón would receive Pts.500,000 in subsidy with a maximum of Pts.6,000,000 annually, with a maximum period of 5 years. This meant at least 12 crossing per year were secured. A better start could the company not get. Between Sevilla and the Canary Island a weekly service had to be opened with airships with a payload of 16 passengers and 1,000 kg of freight. One of the disadvantages of the contract was that if the Ministry of Labour was of the opinion that the results were not satisfactory, it could take over the whole service for Pts.30,000,000! Personnel had to for 70% Spanish/Argentinean. After the five-year period the airport facilities would be handed over to the Spanish Government. Nevertheless it must be noted that this was the first time such a large amount of money was granted for the operation of regular air services by rigid airships.

The Zeppelin LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin I was to be constructed for the airship service and was finished in July 1928. Its maiden flight was on September 18, 1928. It would take until 1930, before the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin would arrive at Sevilla. On May 18 of that year it left Friedrichshafen for the first trial flight from Sevilla to Pernambuco (Refice) and Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately Buenos Aires was not visited. The airship continued to Lakehurst in the USA and returned via Sevilla to Friedrichshafen. A lot of experience was gained during the transatlantic flights leading to the opening of a regular airship service to Refice on March 20, 1932.

But the Compañia Transaeréa Española Sociedad Anónima – Colón never managed to get the plans realised. It could not manage to fulfil the contract (starting up within four years) and was after the 1931 never heard of anymore. The Germans started up a regular air service with airships, which it flew throughout the thirties (see history of Deutsche Luftschiffahrts Aktien-Gesellschaft and Deutsche Luft Hansa AG).

Compañía Española de Aviación – CEA


The Compañia Española de Aviación – CEA was formed in Madrid on February 18, 1923 with a stock-capital of Pts.1,000,000. The organisation was similar to the successful French airline company Compagnie Aérienne Française (q.v.). The aim of the company was to serve all sides of aviation: aerial photography, topographical, aerial measuring, training school for pilots, engineers, military, taxi and joy ride flights. Alfred Bauer headed the Board of Directors with C Cahen d’Anvers as Vice-president. The list with members of the board included among others Juan de la Cierva. Technical director was Henri Balleyhuier, who came from the previous mentioned French airline company.

Throughout the years the company made irregular flying services and ran the Albacete Flying School and Aerodrome. The head office was in Madrid at the Olózaga 5 and 7.

The first aircraft of the company consisted out of a batch of six Bristol Fighter F.2B, biplanes fitted with one 300 hp Hispano Suiza engine, which give it a maximum speed of 123 mph. In 1929 two Avro Avian IV and one Farman F 200 (M-CLAA) were added to the fleet, followed by two De Havilland DH.60G Moths (M-CLLA  (later EC-LLA) and EC-ALL) in 1930. Eventually, the Farman F 354, EC-AVV completed the pre-Civil War fleet. The Farman F 200 was sold to the Reales Aéro Club de Aragón and one of the DH.60G Moths (EC-ALL) was in July 1935 sold to the Spanish national airline company Líneas Aéreas Postales Españolas – LAPE. At the start of the Civil War in 1936 all aircraft were used in the conflict, but the fate of most of them is unknown. The company ceased to exist at the start of the Civil War.

Picture Jorge Loring and the DH9C, M-AAGA via J Oller