photograph of Shell's business fligth

Today business air travel plays an important role for many companies around the world, keeping staff in touch with colleagues and customers alike and driving growth. Estimates suggest that every dollar spent on business travel generates $12.5 in revenue.1

Back in the 1920s, the concept of business flight was very much in its infancy. But as fuel sales activities across Europe grew and intercontinental airfield refuelling operations expanded, it made good business sense for Shell Aviation to become one of the pioneers of business aviation.

The company’s first aircraft was a de Havilland Cirrus Moth, a wooden, two-seat biplane with an open cockpit. Shell took delivery from de Havilland’s Stag Lane airfield in north London on 30 March 1927. The aircraft was christened “Arome” by the wife of vice-president of Shell-Mex, Mrs George Wilson, as she poured Shell Aviation Spirit from a symbolic golden tin into the Moth’s fuel tank. The name Arome refers to the aromatic hydrocarbons that make up aviation fuel.

A regular user of the Moth, and other aircraft as the company’s fleet expanded, was the founder of Shell Aviation, Jerry Shaw. A regular destination for Shaw was the Netherlands for meetings with KLM. The Dutch airline was one of the pioneers of civil aviation, which Shell was supporting in expanding its network of routes throughout Europe and beyond. Shaw would leave the UK after breakfast, land at Rotterdam’s Waalhaven airfield for the meeting and fly back to London that afternoon.

As Shell’s fleet of aircraft grew, they were used by its team of pilots to help explore and chart out new intercontinental routes, taking aerial photographs that aided route planning and navigation. The aircraft were also used for the regular inspection of the expanding network of fuelling installations Shell was building to support the growth of aviation around the world. The aircraft also enabled vital testing of fuels and lubricants at these locations, with samples transported to labs more quickly, contributing to improved fuel quality and safety.

Corporate travel by air has grown significantly since those early beginnings and today businesses spend an estimated $1.3 trillion2 on travel each year globally, with around 12% of all aviation passengers travelling for business.3 Aviation also plays a crucial role in enabling trade in high value products. In 2019, 61 million tonnes of freight, worth $6.5 trillion were carried by air. This represented just 1% of global freight by volume but significantly 35% by value.4


1 Great Business Schools -
2 Global Business Travel Association
3 Investopedia
4 IATA and Oxford Economics analysis, from
R. van Egmond and A. Westra, Shell and aviation. The story of more than a century of collaboration. Shell International B.V., 2019, p. 30-39.
H. Scanlan, Winged Shell. Oil Company Aviators 1927-1987, p. 22-32.
Shell historical archives.

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