Opening up the Asian skies
While we take international air travel to all corners of the globe for granted these days, back in the 1930s, it was an adventure to reach far-flung destinations.
Consider KLM’s 1935 flight schedule from Amsterdam to Indonesian capital Jakarta (then called Batavia). This 11,000km trip took five days, departing early on a Wednesday and arriving the following Monday morning. The journey involved no less than 16 stops with overnight stays in hotels. Waypoints included Gaza, Jodhpur in India, Bangkok, and Singapore.
The main route led from Europe to Asia, via India, then on to Singapore, and Indonesia. Then there were onward routes from Singapore to Hong Kong and China, the Philippines, and Australia.
Throughout the 1930s, Shell Aviation helped paved the way for these new intercontinental routes. The company set up the infrastructure to supply fuel and oil at intermediate airfields, including all 16 visited by KLM’s five-day flight. It also helped to identify, map out and assist with the building of suitable landing sites.
Shell’s own pilots, including founder Jerry Shaw, flying the company’s growing aircraft fleet, undertook countless inspection flights across Asia, including areas that had never been flown over before. These crews took thousands of aerial photographs and provided detailed information, which helped to identify suitable airfields en route.
Today, Asia enjoys the fastest growing aviation sector in the world, with millions more people each year experiencing the social, cultural and economic benefits of flying for the first time. This is thanks in part to the collaboration between KLM and Shell Aviation that helped introduce intercontinental travel by air.
Today, Shell Aviation and KLM are working together to overcome the biggest barrier facing aviation today – how to cut carbon emissions and fly more sustainably. A recent collaboration saw the World’s first commercial flight using certified synthetic kerosene from a non-fossil fuel source. This was produced by Shell, from carbon captured from the atmosphere combined with green hydrogen made from water and green electricity. While this technology is still in its infancy, the potential to use almost unlimited supplies of carbon and hydrogen to create sustainable fuel, makes it one of the most exciting options for sustainable flight in the future.
R. van Egmond and A. Westra, Shell and aviation. The story of more than a century of collaboration. Shell International B.V., 2019, p. 64-73.
H. Scanlan, Winged Shell. Oil Company Aviators 1927-1987, p.32-52.
Shell historical archives.