The origins of Air France, CFRNA – CIDNA the first European airline

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Europe, broken up by the collapse of century-old empires at the end of the Great War, had to reinvent itself. France had the means to rebuild its future on its ancestral acquisitions whereas in some new European states, almost everything had to be done. Visionary politicians wanted to set up contacts between these two worlds, but the diversity of the borders and the slowness of transport prevented any effective collaboration. Pierre de Fleurieu, a 23-year old fighter pilot hero found the solution. Thanks to financial support from the Marmorosch Blank Bank, the French State and several other European states, he imagined and set up the Compagnie Franco-Roumaine de Navigation Aérienne – the first truly European airline company which as early as 1922 spread its network from Paris to Istanbul.
The aircraft builder Henri Potez, who shared Pierre de Fleurieu’s ideas about the future of commercial aviation, converted his military aircraft into civilian ones in record time, and former fighter pilots became airline pilots; military airports were equipped with terminals and workshops. As early as 1923, the planes of the CFRNA carried passengers, freight and post, both by day and night. The company played a big role in the improvement of safety by developing weather forecasting and the use of wireless aboard aircraft.
In 1925, the CFRNA changed its name and became the CIDNA – the Compagnie Internationale de Navigation Aérienne. In 1933, the French government gathered together the five big airline companies – Air Union, Air Orient, Lignes Farman, the Aéropostale and the CIDNA – to create Air France. From the outset, the national company took on charge the ground infrastructures and opened its doors to the CIDNA’s experienced personnel. It benefited as well from the immense prestige of French aeronautics created in thirteen years of CFRNA-CIDNA’s presence throughout Europe. Although the work of the Compagnie suffered during World War Two, after the Iron Curtain was set up, its beneficial influence on the development of European aviation was undeniable.


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Maryla Boutineau

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