ALTHOUGH the twentieth century has not yet produced a Mahan to formulate the full significance in international politics of man's conquest of the air, the rapid strides of commercial aviation in recent years, and the overwhelming rôle played by air power in the present war, indicate that statesmen now have in their hands a new force of tremendous importance. Whether there is ultimate agreement upon a doctrine of "freedom of the air" as there sometimes has been for that of "freedom of the seas," or whether nations will continue to maintain jealously their air rights, the air lanes of the future cannot fail to be important channels through which the influence -- and the prestige -- of states will be spread to remote parts of the world.[i] In this sense the "wave of the future" is the slip-stream behind a myriad spinning propellers and not the wake behind the screws of a laboring ship.

Because of its vast distances, the Pacific is of all the oceans the one where air power seems destined to play perhaps its greatest role. Here, at times in close juxtaposition, lie the scattered outposts of empire which formerly were tied to the mother country only by the tenuous threads of infrequent steamer service. Today this relationship has been profoundly changed by the cable, the radio, and the airplane, and Pacific dependencies have now become virtually integral parts of their respective states. Of these three new agencies the airplane is by all odds the most important. Thanks to it, these dependencies are no longer outposts difficult to administer and even more difficult to defend; they are now immensely valuable bases for both the commerce and the strategy of the future. In the Pacific, at least, air transportation bids fair to transform the whole traditional concept of empire.

This new influence of air power upon the character of empire in the Pacific is not a recent discovery on the part of the governments concerned. Long before the outbreak of the present war, even before the development of acute political tension in the area, governments controlling Pacific possessions had taken steps to link them to the homeland by a nexus of commercial air lines. Other governments, e.g. Germany, lacking colonies but desiring to expand their influence in the region, had attempted to set up such competition as they could.

The dominance of the political, and not the commercial, motive is quite clear. Expensive equipment and elaborate base installations are necessary because of the vast distances to be traversed. For the same reason -- distance -- the expense of operation is great. In some areas the population is backward and poverty-stricken; in others it is sparse. In all cases there are factors which for some time to come will have an adverse effect upon the income of the commercial companies. This was realized by all governments concerned; and as a result all the great Pacific commercial lines have been heavily subsidized. In some cases the subsidy has taken the form of lucrative mail transportation contracts. In this way Pan American has received several million dollars annually for its Pacific postal operations. Japan offers an example of a more direct policy. In 1939, the Diet approved a law providing for the merger of the two existing companies, the Japan Air Transport Company and the International Air Transport Company, into a new corporation, the Dai Nippon Koku Kaisha, which was given a monopoly on all Japanese commercial air services. Provision was made in the law of 1939 for adequate direct subsidies from the Imperial Treasury. Though predominantly controlled by the Japanese Government, this company has some vestiges of private ownership and management. In the same year the British Government brought about a merger of British Airways, Ltd., and most of the operations of Imperial Airways, Ltd. The new corporation thus created, British Overseas Airways, Ltd., is a mixed government-private. affair under full government control, and all outlays and deficits are provided for from government funds. Similarly the great Dutch line, the K.L.M. (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij), like its subsidiary, the K.N.I.L.M. (Koninklijke Nederlandsch-Indische Luchtvaart Maatschappij), is a private company under direct government control. Although it, too, has operated continuously at a deficit, its earnings have been relatively higher than those of most companies operating in the area.

At the time of the outbreak of the war the services available in the Pacific region were substantially as follows:

The British Overseas Airways operated from London to Singapore by way of Marseilles, Rome, Brindisi, Athens, Cairo, Baghdad, Basra, Bahrein, Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, Rangoon and Bangkok. From Thailand an extension operated to Hong Kong via Urdon, Hanoi and Fort Bayard. Beyond Singapore the service was continued to Sydney (via Batavia, Surabaya, Darwin and Brisbane) by Qantas Empire Airways, Ltd., an Australian corporation partially owned by British Overseas Airways.

The K.L.M. operated from Amsterdam to Budapest, Athens and Baghdad, then followed the British route to Karachi, and thence continued directly across India by way of Jodhpur and Allahabad to Calcutta and then on to Bangkok, Penang and Medan. From this point the line branched, one service going to Singapore and Batavia, while another reached Batavia direct from Medan. From Batavia the K.N.I.L.M. paralleled the Qantas service to Sydney, a distance of 3,412 miles, and it also had a service from Batavia north to Saigon.

The French line traversed the Mediterranean from Marseilles to Algiers, skirted North Africa to Cairo, thence followed the British route to Bangkok, and terminated at Saigon. From this point an extension went on to Hong Kong by way of Hanoi. The German Lufthansa had opened a service to Bangkok in July 1939.

Prewar Japanese air routes consisted largely of services spanning the Yellow Sea to Chinese coastal cities under Japanese control, and of extensive communication lines with key cities in Korea and Manchukuo. There was a regular air service to Taiwan (Formosa) and a service from Tokyo to Saipan, which lay 1,300 miles to the south in the Ladrone Islands. Shortly before the outbreak of the war this Saipan route had been doubled in length by an extension to Palau in the Caroline Islands.

Pan American had opened its 8,000-mile route from California to Manila (via Honolulu, Midway, Wake and Guam) in 1935.[ii] This was extended to Macao and Hong Kong, a distance of 700 miles, in 1937. Plans for another line into the south Pacific had been impeded by both diplomatic difficulties and a number of operational obstacles. Though landing rights in Australia could not be obtained, an agreement with the New Zealand Government for landing rights at Auckland had been concluded in 1935. Many test flights and surveys over this route had been made, but no regular service had been established at the time of the outbreak of the war. A factor in this delay had been the loss of the Samoan clipper near Pago Pago in 1938.


Two years of war have affected all these services in the Pacific area. Pan American hastened to complete its arrangements for starting the New Zealand route, and a regular fortnightly service over the 8,000 miles of water from San Francisco to Auckland was inaugurated in July 1940. In order to satisfy the demands of the city of Los Angeles, the Civil Aeronautics Authority required the company to send its planes from San Francisco to Honolulu by way of that city. From Hawaii the first route followed ran to Canton Island and thence to Auckland via Noumea, New Caledonia. Recently, arrangements were completed with the British Government for the regular use of Suva, in the Fiji Islands, as a port of call between Canton Island and Noumea. The first regular stop was made at Suva in October 1941.

The war has, of course, taxed Pan American's facilities to the utmost. The need for speed in travel and communication over the long reaches of the Pacific is greater than ever before, and this need is complicated by the fact that the diversion of ocean tonnage to the Atlantic and increased international friction with Japan have combined to make steamer services more and more irregular and inadequate. In addition, the development of the Pacific defense system of the United States has produced a marked increase in the messenger and mail load of the Pan American clippers, particularly over the 2,400-mile flight between California and Hawaii. In April and May 1940 Pan American carried 17,500 pounds of mail to Hawaii, a figure which increased to 50,800 pounds in the same period of the present year. In August 1941 clipper services between Hawaii and the mainland were doubled. The war also brought to swift completion Pan American's long-standing desire to extend its service by operating over the 1,500 miles between Manila and Singapore. As approved by the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the plan provided for a weekly service over the route to Manila, beyond which point the clipper would travel in alternate weeks to Hong Kong and to Singapore. Permission was obtained without difficulty from the British Government, and the first flight of this service was made in May 1941.

One other indirect extension of the Pan American service occurred shortly after the beginning of the war. Throughout the early months of 1939 the China National Aviation Corporation, a company associated with Pan American, negotiated with the British Government for permission to operate south from Chunking to Rangoon via Kunming and Lashio. After completion of these negotiations, and the enlargement of some of the intermediate fields in order to accommodate the Douglas DC3 airliners, the C.N.A.C. made its first regular flight to Rangoon in October 1939.

Japanese expansion southward followed closely on the heels of the extension of political and military influence. A service from Tokyo to Bangkok, projected in the winter of 1939-1940, was actually opened in July of the latter year. It now operates via Taiwan and Hanoi and, apparently, an alternate route from Hanoi to Bangkok via Saigon is also in regular operation. The most recent development in Japanese air services, and one which occasioned comment in the American press, was the announcement on October 15, 1941, that arrangements had been completed with the Portuguese Government whereby Japan was given landing rights at Dilli, the capital of the Portuguese half of the island of Timor. The Japanese Government announced that as soon as final test flights had been conducted a regular service would be established over the 930-mile route from Palau to Dilli. Since Dilli is only 475 miles from the north coast of Australia, and since Japanese planes will find it virtually impossible to fly over this route without passing directly over numerous Dutch islands in the area between Celebes and New Guinea, we may presume that the Dutch and the Australian Governments, fully aware of the lack of commercial justification for the route, will continue to regard the move as being almost entirely political.

These apprehensions are reënforced by rumored plans for further Japanese expansion. From time to time Japan has conducted survey flights eastward from Yap and Palau into the Caroline and Marshall Islands, and some kind of regular service is about to be established either from Yap or Palau through Truk and Ponape to Jaluit. Indeed, one recent Japanese map indicates that this service is in regular operation. A route from Palau to Taiwan has been discussed for some time, and it, too, may now be in actual operation. We know, also, that Japan would like to extend a line southward from Truk across the thousand miles of sea to Australian New Guinea, and the suggestion has been made that Japan would like, as well, to operate a service south from Saigon to Batavia. Under the present circumstances of political tension in that area neither of these ambitions seems likely to be realized in the near future.

Although the war has brought an expansion of Japanese and American air lines, it has caused drastic changes and curtailments to be made in the services of all other contestants for commercial air supremacy in the south Pacific region. French air services between Europe and Indo-China have, of course, been discontinued entirely, although a local service between Saigon and Hanoi may still be operating. The British Overseas company suspended its service from Bangkok to Hong Kong but otherwise it continued to fly its planes on regular schedules until the fall of France and the entrance of Italy into the war. Since that time it has depended upon a route southward from Cairo through Khartoum, Nairobi and Mozambique to Durban, at which terminal point ocean communications with Britain are available. This socalled "horseshoe" route from Sydney through Cairo to Durban is in regular operation. In view of government demands for transportation it is doubtful if operation of it could be termed commercial in the ordinary sense of the word.

Incidentally, the British Overseas company has more recently established direct air communications from the Near and Middle East to the British Isles by means of a route across tropical Africa and thence north around the African bulge to Lisbon. This route, which extends from Khartoum across to Lagos, in Nigeria, and thence continues west and north to Bathurst or Freetown, is almost entirely military and governmental in character. We may note, also, that in anticipation of a time when communication via the eastern Mediterranean may no longer be available, an emergency route across the Indian Ocean to Australia has recently been surveyed. Airplanes flying this route would depend upon the Seychelles, Chagos and Cocos islands as refueling points.

Only two new British Empire services have been established in recent months. When the inauguration of the Pan American route to Auckland became a certainty early in 1940 air communications had to be improved between Auckland and Sydney. This was done by the creation of the Trans-Tasman Airways, Ltd., ownership of which is divided between the Union Airways of New Zealand, the Qantas company, and the British Overseas Airways. This new company, subsidized by all the governments concerned, maintains a Sydney-Auckland service three times in each fortnight. More recently, after the British occupation of Iran, direct service on a weekly basis has been established between Cairo and Teheran.

The Dutch lines have momentarily suspended the Singapore-Saigon service but they maintain regular schedules across southern Asia to a new terminal point at Lydda, Palestine. In Netherlands India local services have been considerably expanded during the past year. One new route runs from Macassar north to Menado and thence eastward across the Molucca Sea to Ternate. Incidentally, Menado is only 415 miles from Davao, in the Philippines, which is now the southern terminal point of the Iloilo-Negros air service. The other new Dutch route extends east from Macassar across the Molucca Sea to Namlea (island of Boroe) and continues to Manokwari in Netherlands New Guinea. At Namlea there is a junction with a southward spur of the Macassar-Ternate route. Since the Ternate line also continues from Namlea to Manokwari, the weekly service which operates over both lines to Namlea results in a twice-weekly service between Namlea and Manokwari. Recently service has been extended from Barda (where this route turns north to Manokwari) on to Merauke, New Guinea.


Plainly the future development of commercial air services in the Pacific will be influenced to a great extent by the character of the peace made at the end of the present war. If, for example, an agreement should be reached providing for the internationalization of all civil aviation, or if all dependencies were placed under the administrative control of a revived League of Nations, the result in either case would be to usher in a new era in Pacific aviation, an era in which present lines of development would be abruptly terminated. This, however, is unlikely. In all probability the peace settlement will not disturb fundamentally the imperial structure of the victor states. If this is true, the present character of Pacific air services and problems will not be materially different in the postwar period, because as long as international competition for prestige and power in the Pacific continues, air services are likely to be increasingly valuable instruments.

An air link with dependencies and with other countries offers a nation an instrument for combating the influence of hostile states and forging closer links with friendly ones. The interchange of personal visits by diplomats and other important personages often strengthens mightily the political ties binding friendly peoples together. But utility of Pacific air lines in power politics in the future will not be limited to this political function. Commercially, the air line is destined to be an increasingly valuable adjunct to the expansion of a country's exports because it makes possible the expeditious supply of replacement and repair parts for machinery of all kinds. Also, it enables technicians and engineers to make rapid and, if necessary, frequent trips of inspection to assist in the servicing of complicated machinery which has been exported. Trade balances may be fortified by the export by air of perishable things which could not move in ordinary ocean-borne commerce. The possible importance of this last factor is shown by the fact that the transportation of flowers and perishable tropical fruits has been an important item in the air express operations of the K.L.M. All these services seem likely to grow in the future. Commercial air line executives believe that even the most expensive Pacific airways will ultimately become self-sustaining. They point to the fact that an air service which touches at Singapore taps an area with an over-all population of 433,000,-000 persons -- a vast aggregation, indeed, of actual and potential human wants.

Meanwhile, governments engaged in playing the game of power politics in the Pacific are not likely to begrudge the annual subsidies necessary until the air lines in question can become self-supporting. This is true because civilian air lines perform an important military function. They gather valuable data concerning weather conditions; their pilots have extensive and first-hand knowledge concerning the terrain of many distant regions; and their air bases, whether developed on a succession of rocky islets or in crowded centers of population, constitute a potential military asset of undeniable importance. For the United States, the South Pacific route has a special political and military importance because there is no direct cable connection between this country and either Australia or New Zealand.

All this does not mean that we necessarily are to witness in the Pacific area a reckless competition for positions of advantage. If Japan remains an active threat to the security of other states and their dependencies, an ever closer rapprochement is likely to occur between the air services of the United States, the British Empire and Netherlands India. Specifically, the United States under such circumstances will doubtless obtain the right to send its South Pacific clippers directly to Brisbane and Sydney; while Britain will receive permission, hitherto denied, to use Hawaiian landing fields in order to make possible a long-projected direct service between Australia, New Zealand and Vancouver. If British-American collaboration becomes sufficiently close, it may be that the British will not attempt to duplicate Pan American service south from Hawaii, but will operate only a Honolulu-Vancouver link. Under similar circumstances both the Dutch and the American-Philippine authorities should be willing to permit the establishment of Dutch and American services directly between Manila and Batavia or Surabaya -- a development which has been held in abeyance until now because of fear on the part of each that Japan would press for similar or equivalent rights.

On the other hand, if the Japanese threat should be eliminated either by defeat in war or by what would be tantamount to an internal revolution, there would not be the same feeling of urgency to drive the British, Dutch and Americans to measures of cooperation and reciprocity. It might be that the momentum in that direction already achieved would be sufficient to bring about most of the changes noted above. But it is distinctly possible that instead there would be an undesirable tendency to revert to international air rivalry. In the interests of future American-British coöperation in the Pacific, this tendency should be prevented at all costs from developing. Parenthetically, it may be said that the cost of allowing British clipper ships to land at Hawaii does not seem an exorbitant one for us to pay as a contribution toward an all-round understanding. Failure to reach it can only have the result of driving the competitors on both sides to develop longer-range aircraft which will be able to cross the expanses of the ocean without using intermediate stops, but at greater expense.

There does not seem much likelihood that many more new air lines will be developed in the Pacific in the near future, except perhaps in the Australasian area. In time, of course, a great circle route may be brought into operation from the Atlantic seaboard to Australia via Manzanillo, Mexico, and some point in the Marquesas Islands; but unless Clipperton Island or Socorro Island can be used as an intermediate landing point this route involves a 3,100-mile flight from Manzanillo to the nearest satisfactory point in the Marquesas (probably Nukuhiva). In any event, the saving of 500 miles over the Honolulu route does not seem impressive, although it appears that weather conditions on it would be more favorable at certain seasons.[iii] It would also be quite possible to establish a direct route westward from Chile or Peru to Australasia via the Galapagos Islands or Easter Island, since the longest flight in such a service would be 2,300 miles (Lima-Easter) or 2,150 (Valparaiso-Easter).

In Canada it has been reported recently that plans have been perfected for starting trans-Pacific service after the war, following a northern great circle route to Vladivostok. Canadian Airways, Ltd., a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, is reported to have purchased the Yukon Southern Air Transport (which operates from Edmonton to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory) as a first step in the realization of the new plan. Since relations between the Yukon Southern and the Alaskan service of Pan American are now most amicable the Canadian company should find no difficulty in securing rights to go over Alaskan territory and to use Fairbanks as a base, from which point flights could be made to Vladivostok via Kamchatka. Since the over-all distance from Fairbanks to Vladivostok is not materially greater than from Dutch Harbor (2,800 miles) the advantages of the predominantly overland route are obvious.

The minimum sailing time today between the United States and Singapore is 27 days, while slower ships require seven weeks to make the voyage. But a businessman in New York or a government official in Washington may now leave his office, fly to California, take a clipper, and taxi to a landing at the Kallang Marine Airport in Singapore in less than one week. This process of foreshortening the greatest of all oceans is by no means complete. Thus the airplane designer who works over his drafting board or the engineer who tinkers with his models in a wind tunnel is unconsciously providing a final and a negative answer to those who have believed that it is possible and desirable to limit the area of American influence and interest to the Aleutian-Pearl Harbor-Panama defense line.

[i] For a discussion of air sovereignty and its problems, see O. J. Lissitzyn, "The Diplomacy of Air Transport," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, October 1940.

[ii] For an account of the development of the Pan American service in the Pacific, see "Pacific Airways," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, October 1939.

[iii] See Captain G. S. Bryan, "Commercial Oversea Aviation Routes," United States Naval Institute Proceedings, October 1940.

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  • GRAYSON KIRK, Associate Professor of Government at Columbia University; author (with Walter R. Sharp) of "Contemporary International Politics"
  • More By Grayson Kirk