Société des Transports Aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest – STASO (1919-1920) and Compagnie Franco-Bilbaïne de Transports Aéronautiques – CFB (1920-1923)

By: Rob Mulder

Société des Transports Aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest – STASO

One month after the Armistice the casinos of Biarritz started to think about a way to attract the wealthy millionaires of France to Biarritz again. They scheduled the opening of the casinos in May 1919 and the managers of the casinos decided to work together and finance the formation of a small airline company. The Société des Transports Aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest – STASO (the Transport Aeronautic Company of the Southwest) was the third airline company to be founded in France (after the Lignes Aérienne Farman and the CMA). It was formed in Bayonne on July 19, 1919 and former French Lieutenant of the Aéronautique Militaire, Marcel Gindner was employed to set up and run the company. The capital of the company was Ffr 310,000 and the aim was first of all to operate taxi and joy ride flights in the Bay of Biscay (Golfe de Gascogne) area, but this was soon extended to regular air services (Bordeaux – Biarritz – Bilbao – San Sebástian). Paris was chosen as the seat of the company, but the operational centre would be in Biarritz. It set up its centre of operations at the airport Blancpignon-lez-Bayonne at Bayonne. Three Farman aircraft Type 1912 were purchased by credits from the casinos. They all came from the surplus stocks of the French army. In the spring of 1920 the airfield was taken over after an agreement with the French State was signed.

Summer guests from the casinos could travel to the Station d’Aerobus and make for Ffr 250 a joy-ride flight. After three weeks some 100 passengers were carried. Until October flight were made with the Farman F 40s and the Caudron G 3. By August the plan emerged to open with the Farman F 60 Goliath an air service between Bordeaux, Biarritz and San Sebástian, but the aircraft considered was regarded as too big. On August 9 the STASO took over a Farman F 40H (This was a seaplane version of the Farman F 40, powered by a 130 hp Renault 8C engine, giving the aircraft an average speed of 110 km/h. The aircraft carried two passengers) from the French Navy and made on August 11 a trial flight between Biarritz and Pau. The remaining three aircraft (Farman F 50P9 were used for trial flights between Biarritz, Cambo, Sain Jean de Luz – Biarritz and Biarritz – San Sebástian and return. The casinos were less and less interested to finance the STASO and Marcel Gindner was forced to find a solution. By October the aircraft were dismantled for the season and sold, with the exception of one Farman F 40H, that Marcel Gindner owned privately. All pilots and engineers were sacked and only Gaston Lafargue remained in service. With this aircraft the STASO made fourteen trial flights between Biarritz and San Sebástian. It was obvious that the company needed new financial means.

Compagnie Franco-Bilbaïne de Transports Aéronautiques


The Chamber of Commerce of the cities of Bayonne and Bilbao (Spain) felt that an air service between the two cities was essential and would have a high potential among civil servants, managers and salesmen. They funded the formation of a new airline company that was to be the successor of the STASO. In February 1920 the Compagnie Franco-Bilbaïne de Transports Aéronautiques – (Compagnie Franco-Bilbaïne) was formed with a stock capital of Ffr 400,000. The Compagnie Franco-Bilbaïne took over the aircraft from the STASO and searched for new aircraft suitable for regular air services. The former manager of the STASO, Marcel Gindner, was employed and given the assignment to employ pilots and engineers and purchase aircraft. The first pilot employed was Gosselin, who suggested Le Morvan as pilot as well. Furthermore, Marcel Gindner ordered two Tellier–Levy T 3 flying boats and on the way back to Biarritz he stopped at the surplus stock at Cazaux and purchased another Farman F 40H (with 130 hp engine). The two Tellier-Levy T 3 flying boats were delivered in May and a new aircraft ordered and delivered. The three aircraft were modified in the workshop of the company. The front turret was removed and the fuselage made suitable for the transportation of two passengers and two bags of airmail.

On June 27 the French Undersecretary of State for Aeronautiques Pierre-Étienne Flandin performed the official opening of the service Bayonne – Bilbao. The inaugural flight was made with the Georges Levy HB2, F-CFBI and flown by the pilot Gosselin and the mechanic C Clément. The first two passengers were Marcel Gindner and the Undersecretary Paul-Étienne Flandin. After an hour the aircraft landed in the Spanish city of Bilbao and returned the same day.

The next day the service was officially opened and up to July 15, 1920 nine flights were made carrying airmail and nine passengers. This air service had a seasonal character and was flown daily except on Sundays. During the high season the frequency was higher than during the low season. In Spain the CFB used a local agent called Red de Hidroaviones del Cantábrico – RHC. Industrials from the Bilbao-area financed this venture. RHC was formed in 1920 in the city of Bilbao and was set up to act as general agent. It sold tickets in Spain on behalf of CFB and handled the aircraft, passengers and goods in the Spanish harbours. The objective of this company was also to start up air services along the Cornisa Cantábrica during the summer season and especially between Biarritz, San Sebastián and Santander. On October 11, 1920 the Spanish Government by Royal Order (Real Orden) appointed El Abra to be the airport of Bilbao for flying boats.

The fare for the flight was Ffr 250 with a special 8-days return fare of Ffr 425. An advertisement in the magazine L’Air suggested that aircraft of the type Lévy-Lepen (with 300 hp engine) and Tellier (with 200 hp Hispano-engine) were used on this particular route. A few months later a new advertisement suggested that the route was still in use and now extended to the Spanish village of Santander.

La ligne avant tout!

The route before everything! This remarkable sentence was the motto of Marcel Gindner, Le patron (the director) of the CFB. He supported his crews in bad times as well. When Le Morvan during a low flight scarred the horse while passing the hippodrome of Barre, the French Gendarmerie visited the offices of CFB. But Marcel Gindner only gave his pilot a strong word and nothing more.

A remarkable assignment was signed with the French Army (the 49éme Division) about the release of pigeons. The crew of the aircraft took the birds along in the aircraft and release them above sea after which they hopefully returned home to France.

But the overall plan was to extend the air service to Bilbao along the Spanish coast towards Lisboa (Portugal) and Africa and in northern direction via Bordeaux to England. For latter service landplanes were required and the Farman-minded Marcel Gindner suggested the use of the finest aircraft at hand, the Farman F 60 Goliath. In 1921 a special airfield for this purpose was purchased (near Parme), but unfortunately the plans could not be realised.

The year also saw the loss of one of the Farman aircraft. On October 6 two passengers (Mr Beascoa and Mr Javiero) were killed when the pilot Gosselin had to make an emergency landing. Gosselin was badly injured.

Between July and December 1920 the aircraft of CFB flew 22,316 km and carried 56 passengers. Of the 284 scheduled flights only 139 were operated (48.9%).

A new year: 1921 with a disastrous end

By 1921 the stock capital of the company had been increased to Ffr 610,000. At the end of 1921 CFB was flying with nine Georges Lévy flying boats. It offered work to at least eight pilots and eight mechanics. The network in 1921 existed again of the route Bayonne – Bilbao – Santander on which services were resumed on April 5, 1921. It was prolonged on April 15 to the city of Santander. The total length of the service was now 200 km. The schedule was as follows:

09.00 am dep. Bayonne arr. 5.15 pm
10.30 am arr. Bilbao dep. 3.45 pm
11.30 am dep. Bilbao arr. 3.15 pm
12.00 noon arr. Santander dep. 2.45 pm

The price structure must be called interesting, as we here see for the first time special rates: The regular fare for a flight between Bayonne and Bilbao was set at Ffr 100 and between Bilbao and Santander at Ffr 50. But French civil servants on or off duty, diplomats, servicemen, salesmen and manufacturers on business trips were given a 50 percent discount. In these days this is rather the other way around.

As from May 14, an extra flight on Saturday to and on Sunday from Santander was added.  About this extension is some disagreement. The French magazine L’Air of April 1921 informs its readers that the Bayonne – Bilbao service was extended to Santander on Monday, Thursday and Saturday only.

But at the end of the year the service was flown daily, with departure Bayonne at 9.30 am and from Santander at 3,45 p.m. The additional service in the weekends left Bilbao on Saturday at 3.30 pm and Bayonne on Sunday at 9 am. Up to 15 kg of luggage could be taken along. Mail was carried as well, but no mail results are known. The CFB received an official subsidy from the Ministry for Aeronautics and Air Transport, but depended on the type of aircraft used: When operating the Lévy Lepen on the route the French State paid a fixed subsidy of 5.65 Ffr and a petrol subsidy of 0.835 Ffr per flown kilometre. Flights by the Tellier were subsidized by 3.002 Ffr per flown kilometre and an addition 0.656 Ffr per flown kilometre as petrol subsidy.

But in June 1921 the French state informed the CFB that it stopped the subsidy for the obsolete Farman F 40H seaplanes. Marcel Gindner tried to convince the famous French Under Secretary for Aeronautics and Air Transport, Mr V Laurent-Eynac. He argued that the operations of the Tellier and Levy flying boats were beyond all criticism and even use the word “disastrous”. The high loads per square meter forced the pilot to use maximum power leading to a very fast wear out of the engines and subsequently many breakdowns. Other problems were the disability of the Lévy Lepen flying boat to take off from high seas and despite having more power the disability of the Tellier T-3 to take off if winds were faster than 10 or 12 meters per second. The Farman-aircraft were more reliable and were operated without any problems.

Regular services were closed down in October 1921 due to disappointing results and although the company continued flying charter- and taxi flights, all services had been suspended by December 1921. The traffic results for the year 1921 (only for the regular service) were 178 out of 428 scheduled flights were flown (a disappointing 41.5 %), while 35,942 km was flown. The CFB carried just 278 passengers and 57 kg freight.

A last important event in 1921 was in the beginning of August an Air Display at Santander in Spain, where the French pilot Malleterre with a Morane-Saulnier made aerobatics flights, while Miss Andrée Blanche made here twelfth parachute jump. Unfortunately she landed in the sea, but was picked up and brought ashore.

One accident has been registered and that was of the Tellier T-3, F-ECFB that on April 6, 1921 crashed near the sea resort of Bermeo.

By August 1921 the shareholders began to withdraw from the company and no money was at the disposal of the company to purchase new aircraft. The Chamber of Commerce was not experienced enough to see the potential of aviation and decided, much against the will of Marcel Gindner, to dissolve the company. By November the company was dissolved. All in all the company is interesting in many aspects since it was one of the earliest airline companies in France and operated solely with flying boats. Marcel Gindner remained in service of the Chamber of Commerce but by the mid-twenties he had returned to the military service.

Two of CFBs aircraft were dismantled and later sold to the Belgian airline company Syndicat Nationale d’Etude de Transport Aérien – SNETA. Also pilots Gosselin and Le Morvan and engineer Clément left the company and started to work for SNETA in the Belgian colony Congo, where they operated the air service Kinshasa – Stanleyville.

Finally, I would like to thank French aviation specialists Régis Biaux and Robert Espérou. The original article was widely extended with new facts and I thank them for their enormous help in compelling this article.

The mysteries of the fleet

In the first French Air Register CFB was awarded the letters CFB.

The Georges Levy HB 2 started their registration with the letters F-CFBx;

The Tellier flying boats started their registration with the letters F-xCFB; and

The Farman (the Type F 13 and F 40H) started their registration with the letters F-CxFB.

The “x” was replaced by the letters A, E, I, O, U and Y.

The fleet of the CFB has some mysteries as its number of aircraft varies continuously. The highest recorded number of aircraft in service was 20, while later sources gave figures between 14 and 16 aircraft. The list below should therefore be regarded as incomplete. It only indicates the aircraft known.

Fleet list of Compagnie des Transports Aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest


Type Regn. Name c/n In Fate
Farman F 40H F-CEFB    2.19 .20 to CFB as F-CEFB
Caudron G 3 .19
Farman F 40H 9.8.19 Ex French Navy
Farman F 40H 9.8.19 Ex French Navy
Farman F 50P .19 .20 to CFB
Farman F 50P .19 .20 to CFB
Farman F 50P .19 .20 to CFB


Fleet list of Compagnie Franco-Bilbaïne de Transports Aéronautiques

It is known that the fleet of CFB included 14-20 aircraft. The Lévy Lepen and Tellier aircraft were mainly used on the regular services, while CFB had to withdrawn the Farman F 40H from regular service during 1921.

Type Regn. Name c/n In Fate
Farman F 40H F-CEFB 1736 2.20
Farman F 40H F-CIFB 2172 2.20
Farman F 50P 2.20
Farman F 50P 2.20
Farman F 50P 2.20
Georges Lévy HB2 F-CFBA 5.20
Georges Lévy HB2 F-CFBI 5.20
Tellier T-3 F-CFBU 6.20
Tellier T-3 F-ECFB .20 6.4.21 crashed
Tellier T-2 F-ACBO <5.20
Tellier T-2 F-ACBU .20
Tellier T-2 F-ACFS .20 unconfirmed
Farman F 46 F-UCFB 6804
Farman F 46 F-YCFB 7209
Morane-Saulnier .20