Shell Aviation is born
The most influential figure in the formation of Shell Aviation was Henry “Jerry” Shaw, a passionate aviator who would go on to combine superb flying skills with a brilliant business mind.
By 1921, Jerry Shaw had already racked up a clutch of aviation roles since learning to fly with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. Following his demobilisation, he was the chief pilot for an express parcel air service and for passenger services between Hounslow in west London and Paris in 1919. He also piloted charter flights for photographic shoots and became the first pilot to work for KLM, flying its inaugural commercial service from Croydon in south London to Amsterdam in May 1920.
However, many people at the time still viewed aviation as little more than a hobby or sport and with little investment, the nascent British aviation industry fell on hard times. By May 1921, Shaw was running a car service at Croydon, transporting passengers between central London and the aerodrome.
But Shaw was a committed believer in the potential of flight and was not ready to give up on aviation. In October 1921 he approached FL Halford, General Manager of Shell-Mex, managing to persuade him that aviation was a business opportunity too good to miss. Shaw was given the job of establishing the first aviation department in a major oil company, selling products to commercial and private aviation operators across the UK and abroad. Shell’s commitment to aviation not only helped to establish the credibility of the sector but also led to the roll out of what would eventually become a global fuelling network, enabling the sector’s rapid, global expansion over the coming decades.
According to an article in the Britain from Above website about Shaw: “He was known both for his success, put down to his likeable personality and skilful salesmanship, and for his gold-coloured de Havilland DH60 Gypsy Moth, which he used to visit local aerodromes, flying to meetings and aerial pageants in order to secure sales.”
In the 1930s, Shaw was instrumental in expanding Shell’s global refuelling and aviation support network, flying worldwide to research air routes and develop fuelling infrastructure, which paved the way for the modern airports of today. He also played an important role in aviation safety, providing ideas that became the basis of modern air traffic control practices.
Shaw would go on to lead Shell Aviation for 30 years, laying the foundations of an organisation that has grown over the decades as aviation has expanded, supporting and collaborating with airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers and helping to power progress and bring prosperity to people right across the globe.
R. van Egmond and A. Westra, Shell and aviation. The story of more than a century of collaboration. Shell International B.V., 2019, p. 22-23 and p. 30-33.
H. Scanlan, Winged Shell. Oil Company Aviators 1927-1987, p. 11-21. Magazine Shell Olie, 1952.
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