THE idea of linking continents by air has always had a romantic appeal. Even before the World War students of aëronautical technology were speculating upon the conditions that would make trans-oceanic service possible. The war in fact interrupted a well-prepared American project for an experimental flight across the North Atlantic. And the Versailles Treaty had not yet been signed before a half-dozen competing camps were established in Newfoundland by contestants for the late Lord Northcliffe's prize of ten thousand pounds for the first aviator to cross the Atlantic. It was not, however, until Lindbergh's sensational flight in the summer of 1927 that the general public came to regard regular trans-oceanic air communication as within the realm of possibility.

Now the problems of intercontinental air communication are in two categories: technical and political. In the first place, it is necessary to produce an aircraft that can make the required flight, not merely as an occasional stunt performance under carefully chosen conditions, but over and over again on a regular schedule with a load that will pay for at least a part of the expense involved. Then, assuming that there is an aircraft physically able to make the flight, comes the question: Will all the various governments concerned allow the flight to take place?

In 1919 it was only the technical obstacles that seemed to matter. Could an airplane be built capable of crossing the Atlantic? That was the prime question. Political and legal difficulties were not anticipated. It was assumed that in the new and supposedly reformed postwar world a certain freedom of commerce would naturally prevail. The work at Paris had, indeed, included an International Air Navigation Convention establishing the freedom of innocent air passage in time of peace as a fundamental rule of international conduct. Private planes are thus free to voyage by air, at least in the thirty-two countries which have ratified this convention. These ratifying powers include most of Europe (except Germany, Hungary, the Baltic States and Russia), a large part of Asia and a small part of the Americas. But this recognition of the amateur flyer's right of passage does little direct good to air transport, for Article 15 of the convention provides that "The establishment of international airways shall be subject to the consent of the States flown over." A conference attended by both ratifying and non-ratifying Powers was held in 1929 to discuss the convention's future. At this conference it was moved that the free operation of transport lines be recognized as an inherent right subject only to police regulations. This motion received but four votes out of thirty-one. It is noteworthy that the United States and Great Britain, together with Sweden and the Netherlands, favored freedom; but that France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Brazil opposed it. Even on a much milder proposition, that permission to operate transport lines be withheld only on "reasonable grounds," the vote was unfavorable; Italy, Germany and Portugal were again among those opposed, although on this issue Brazil and France had shifted to the affirmative side. It is no wonder, then, that since 1919 the freedom of international air traffic has become more and more circumscribed, until today the operation of international civil airlines is regarded as a special privilege to be granted by one government to another only after negotiation and on a strict quid pro quo basis.

In considering the future of air transport it is necessary to remember that legally the sea is free but the air is not. The great seafaring nations long ago discovered that in time of peace their interest lay, not in restricting one another, but in insuring universal freedom for their own commerce. This interest is reflected in the evolution of international maritime law according to which not only the high seas but the ports of every nation are open in peacetime to the shipping of all others. The goods that ships carry may be restricted, but the ships themselves may not ordinarily be refused the right of passage or of entry. Now one might suppose that the Great Powers would find freedom as advantageous in the air as on the sea. But if this supposition were correct, aërial intercourse would not be impeded by the long and painful negotiations which today must precede the creation of any international air route.

We must therefore conclude that the Great Powers do not regard the free development of international air commerce as a primary factor in determining their national policies. There are three reasons for this indifference. First, the promotion of air commerce is not judged on its own merits but in relation to the airplane's other possible employments. When, for instance, a state demands the right to impose not only quota restrictions but even an absolute veto on foreign commercial flights over its territory, it is moved in part by the fear that foreign aircraft may provide convenient instruments of espionage and that pilots who fly a commercial route in peace may be learning to fly that route with a different cargo in time of war.

Second, the typical international airline lies for the greater part within the jurisdiction of foreign governments. The home government is thus unable to exercise as much control over its planes engaged in international commerce as over its ships on the high seas. For instance, there are only small stretches of "high sea" on the air routes from Europe to Asia.

Third and most important are the commercial factors and the spirit in which they are regarded. Unfortunately, this spirit is conditioned by the autarchic and protectionist dogmas so widely held today. Those who hold to these doctrines argue that other nations have low standards of living and hence low costs; that their inhabitants are furthermore potentially guilty of all sorts of unscrupulous practices in the quest of gain; that therefore, the aërial operations of those nations, instead of being allowed to evolve freely under the give and take of international competition, must be strictly regulated and limited. The practical manifestations of this logic are various. In some cases the limitation merely fixes the maximum number of air schedules that can be operated within a given time. In other instances it goes so far as to compel foreign companies, on pain of losing their right to operate, to share their business and receipts with a local company, however ineffectually the latter may be run.

In negotiations between leading commercial states, such as the United States and Britain, this factor of commercial adjustment is the greatest obstacle to an agreement. The difficulty commonly lies less in any unwillingness to come to terms than in the necessity of exactly balancing the gain and loss involved in each separate route. The most troublesome occasions occur when one party needs a concession, however small, and has nothing immediately to offer in return. For example, when American operators sought to lay out Caribbean routes, they encountered strong opposition from both the British and French Governments. In the British colonies the Americans at first received only a temporary permission; in the French they long met insurmountable barriers.

The United States has not been backward in protecting its own commercial interests before allowing foreign companies to operate lines to this country. The trans-Atlantic commercial flights of the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg were officially recognized as merely "experimental," and were carried on under an American permit, granted for that purpose only and periodically renewed for stated numbers of flights.

But these commercial obstacles are relatively simple and can be dealt with by straightforward commercial negotiations. Much more tortuous are the problems arising from the determination of certain countries to exploit to the utmost the political advantages of their geographical situations. Airlines often have to pass over the territories of nations in which the operating companies have little commercial interest. It also frequently happens that plans for passage over the high seas call for refuelling halts at various intermediate points. In both cases the consent of the state flown over or into is required; and where that state has itself little commercial interest in the establishment of the service, it is in a position to exact the maximum compensation which it calculates the prospective traffic can be induced to bear.

These compensations take many forms; and the art of devising them and of superimposing one upon the other has been highly developed in those countries of the Near and Middle East across which the British, French and Dutch lines from Europe to the Indies have had to pass. These lines have been required to make stops for which there is no commercial reason; to employ personnel, nationals of the territory flown over, that they do not need; and to participate in various complicated divisions of traffic and of revenue with local enterprises. In at least one case, the initial demand is reported to have been that all revenues derived from the carriage of traffic across the territory of the given state be turned over to local aëronautical interests.

But after all, the object of the offending state in these instances is to determine the maximum that the traffic will bear, and then let the traffic bear it. The purpose is not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. There is, however, the case in which a government does not care whether the line operates or not: it grants foreign lines permission to operate across its territory only in case such action furthers its general diplomatic policy.

Now what application do these generalizations have to the air routes of the Atlantic?

It is easy for Americans to assume that communications between Europe and South America are of negligible importance in comparison with those between Europe and this country. The volume of trade across the South Atlantic is indeed relatively small; but other factors besides mere volume have made the South Atlantic interesting to European governments. Commerce between the United States and Europe has reached a degree of stability and sophistication that makes its distribution largely independent of such considerations as political prestige. Regardless of which nation establishes an airline across the North Atlantic, the business men of all countries will patronize it and little special advantage will accrue to the nationals of the Power that sponsors it. But the airlines of France and Germany to South America have raised the prestige of those two countries on that continent, and this in turn has been of tangible benefit to French and German industry. No less important has been the political advantage obtained by European governments in return for showing solicitude in improving communications with the principal countries of South America. The nations of Southern Europe seek by this means to keep alive the ties of sentiment springing from a common Latin origin; while Germany desires to maintain easy and frequent contact with the numerous Germans who have settled in South America and whose German spirit she wishes to preserve.

Another merit of the airlines to South America is that they have helped open that relatively isolated and undeveloped continent. Hitherto South America had possessed little air transport of her own; furthermore, she lacked the resources for providing herself with such facilities in the near future. The European and American airlines have therefore been important elements in speeding up the tempo of her aviation development. At the same time, these companies found in South America an ideal outlet for investment and for developing operations closely coördinated technically with those at home.

Last but not least, geographical and meteorological considerations made communication by heavier-than-air craft much simpler between South America and Africa than between North America and Europe. Either route is, as regards length, an easy one for the rigid airship, which has an economical cruising radius three times as long as that of any airplane that can now be constructed. But the lower speed of the lighter-than-air craft, its enormous initial cost, the elaborate ground organization required, and the bad accident record of dirigibles have all been handicaps which only the Germans have overcome.

Theoretically it is possible to cross the North Atlantic with no single hop longer than 590 miles (less than the distance from Washington to Chicago), and the South Atlantic with 1,270 miles as the longest single flight. The first westward air crossing of the North Atlantic was made via the Orkneys-Iceland-Greenland-Labrador route when the United States Army around-the-world squadron flew from Europe to America in 1924. Pan American Airways and Deutsche Luft Hansa (which has a virtual monopoly of German air transport) have both made official surveys of the Arctic route. Furthermore, there have been negotiations with Denmark with a view to obtaining flying rights in Greenland and Iceland. But the great barrier to regular flying on this route is the weather. The harbors of Greenland and of Labrador are closed through a major part of the year; indeed, in the case of Greenland it is uncertain that they will be open at all. Our Army squadron made its westward flight in August; even so, it held up its departure from Reykjavik for several weeks while naval vessels and their scouting aircraft vainly explored the east coast of Greenland for a harbor free from ice. Operations on this route would be not merely seasonal, but uncertain at the best of seasons. It can be used only as a last resort. But progress in aëronautical science has rendered so undesirable an expedient unnecessary; the aircraft designer has now made it possible to fly straight across the Atlantic.

The non-stop route next in order of length is that via Newfoundland and the Azores, used by the Navy's flying boats in 1919 on the first West-to-East crossing of the North Atlantic. The longest single flight on this route is 1,510 miles -- or about 1,470 if the easternmost point of Newfoundland is used in place of the new trans-Atlantic air base that the British have developed at Botwood. These distances are still a little shorter than the shortest possible jump across the South Atlantic, if the exceedingly roundabout route via Ascension and St. Paul's Rocks is excluded. And as a matter of fact St. Paul's Rocks can well be left out of account as an intermediate base despite their ideal location, for they break the water on an area less than 200 yards in diameter. They once were proposed as a refuelling point for an experimental flight, and a successful landing was actually made alongside them; but the seaplane used on that occasion was later wrecked. Since then no trans-Atlantic plane has ever attempted to rise from the water at St. Paul's Rocks.

The over-water distances from Newfoundland to Horta and from the Cape Verde Islands to Fernando Noronha, off the coast of Brazil, are almost equal; but circumstances make flights over the two routes very different propositions. The aviators who sought the Northcliffe prize in 1919 all came to Newfoundland to fly from West to East; and after Lindbergh's flight in 1927, when the British aircraft industry was being heckled for its failure to duplicate the feats of American machines and pilots, its principal spokesman observed that: "We have the greatest respect for the high qualities of American airplanes and engines, but unfortunately they do not carry as regular permanent equipment the 30-mile tail-wind which they have exploited so successfully upon the Atlantic." From Europe to the United States through the air is, in terms of the total work which an airplane engine must perform, some 50 percent further than from the United States to Europe.

On the North Atlantic the prevailing westerlies blow; in the South Atlantic equatorial calms prevail. In the trade wind belt just outside the equatorial zone, flight from East to West is somewhat easier than in the reverse direction, though the difference is not of great importance. If a reasonable regularity of schedule is to be maintained, even the 1,850 miles from West Africa directly to Brazil's jutting-out eastern point is a much easier flight technically than is the much shorter distance between the Azores and the North American continent.

In a sea-going commercial vessel cruising radius is a matter of bunker capacity, and in general it is simple for the naval architect to provide for a larger cruising radius than actual operation is apt to require. In the airplane, on the other hand, the designer soon reaches a point beyond which cruising radius is purchased at a fearful price in terms of economy of operation. Ten years ago the longest cruising radius of an airplane, compatible with reasonable economy and supposing an intermediate stop to be physically convenient, was some three hundred miles. If absolutely necessary, that distance could be multiplied by two or three, but only at a very heavy cost. Three years ago the natural economical range had been raised to 600 miles; today for the most modern overland airliners it stands at close to a thousand. But it is still far short of the shortest non-stop Atlantic distance. For typical flights in the United States, some 20 percent of the total load carried can take the form of payload, even after a lavish dispersion of weight in luxurious furnishings. For Atlantic flights, the present proportion of payload to total weight can hardly exceed 10 percent, even after effecting the strictest economy of weight that is compatible with reasonable comfort and the necessary safety provisions. Even that figure represents an enormous advance during the last five years.

Ten years ago, anything like regular trans-oceanic operation in both directions with a commercial load looked a hopeless proposition. Intermediate stopping-places in addition to the island groups were therefore sought. There were projects for enclosing areas of the ocean with floating breakwaters that would calm the waves enough to allow seaplane take-offs after refuelling. There was also a very well-engineered and diligently promoted plan (which more than once seemed upon the verge of receiving official support) for planting seadromes, or floating islands with flying decks raised on pillars far above the sea, at intervals between America and Europe. Foreign Offices, especially that in Paris, became greatly agitated over the legal status of such seadromes permanently located just outside the three-mile limit, and over the question as to who would have sovereignty over them. But progress in aircraft design has been a little too rapid for the seadrome advocates, or the oceans were not quite wide enough, and all such schemes are now forgotten.

Forgotten too, in the near future, may be the plans to use the islands as bases. Up to the present all projects for trans-Atlantic service have inevitably led their sponsors as suppliants to the door of the Portuguese Government. The Azores occupy a unique strategic position, and the Cape Verdes, though less essential, are at least a very convenient stopping-place on certain routes. Under Article 15 of the International Air Navigation Convention, of which Portugal is a signatory, the Portuguese Government is free to determine its own policy regarding the admission of foreign airlines to Portuguese territory. In 1930 it was announced, to the profound disturbance of aëronautical circles in all parts of the world, that an exclusive concession for operation via the Azores had been given to the Aeropostale Company, then the French operator of the South American route. But the internal affairs of Aeropostale and political difficulties in France were such that the company failed to start a service via the Azores before the end of 1932. Under its terms the concession therefore lapsed. After this contract had been liquidated, the Portuguese Government reverted to its traditionally close relations with Great Britain. Between Mr. Salazar's government and Berlin there has also been increasingly close sympathy since the outbreak of the civil war in Spain. Whereas the influence of France at Lisbon has fallen so low that a request that the French flying boat Lieutenanl-de-Vaisseau Paris be permitted to stop at the Azores on a mere experimental flight failed to receive approval, and the flight had to be abandoned in consequence. Report has it that the French request did not even receive a formal answer. In the meantime, the Germans have made use of the Portuguese islands on their exploratory flights of the past two summers; the flying boats of Britain's Imperial Airways have also made landings on them; and Pan American Airways, operating in close alliance with Imperial, has been able to obtain special privileges over a fifteen-year period both in the Azores and on the Portuguese mainland.

The Azores have had more importance than the mileages shown on the map would suggest, for the best alternative to a route via the Azores, in point of distance, is that by Newfoundland and Ireland. But the climate of Newfoundland is only a degree less unsatisfactory than that of Greenland. Not only is the eastern part of the island one of the foggiest regions on earth, but its harbors are commonly choked with ice by the first of January, and remain so until early summer. A trans-Atlantic seaplane service via Newfoundland could operate only during the tourist season. There are, however, possibilities of year-round operation from a land base by using airplanes fitted with wheels. The British Government, with that lavishness which it has displayed whenever opportunity seemed to offer for opening up new imperial communications, is now hewing a first-class airport out of the wooded countryside at Gander Lake, not far from Botwood; and four-engined landplanes designed expressly for carrying mail -- and mail only -- across the Atlantic are ready for service. The carriage of passengers upon such machines may come in time; at present, however, no responsible operator would be so bold as to throw a passenger service across 2,000 miles of open sea in aircraft unable to make an emergency landing upon the water.

The unique position of the Azores, therefore, obliges any would-be operator of a year-round seaplane service across the North Atlantic to do business with Portugal until such time as non-stop operation over some 3,400 miles and against a prevailing wind (at times exceeding 50 miles an hour) shall become possible. That time is very near at hand. Although an intermediate stop would still be conducive to economy, there is every reason to think that flying-boats will be constructed within the next two years with such long-range capacities that the economic advantage of the halt at the Azores will be fully offset by the hazards of indefinite delay which such a stop might entail. In general, the islands in the Atlantic have no harbors. The best that they offer is short patches of concave shore-line, partially protected by small breakwaters. Their sheltered areas are by no means large enough for a flying boat to take off on a long flight; the take-offs must thus be made virtually in the open sea, and the lee of the islands does not at all times afford sufficient shelter. The Azores are used today only out of necessity, as a means of escaping the seasonal limitations of the Newfoundland route. Bermuda has both perfect weather and an excellent harbor; but unless it is used in conjunction with the Azores there is little reason for using it at all, since it is almost as far from the European mainland as are the more northerly ports of the United States.

In the South Atlantic, the islands have already had their day and passed into commercial oblivion along with the seadrome projects. On early flights, Fernando Noronha was a common port of call. The position of the Cape Verdes seemed important enough to the French for Aeropostale to seek special privileges there. Indeed, at one time it looked as though Aeropostale was about to receive a virtual aërial monopoly in those islands. But, again as in the Azores, that company allowed its opportunity to slip away. At present France would be interested in the Cape Verdes only for military reasons. During the last three years both landplanes and seaplanes have shuttled steadily between Dakar (Senegal) and Natal (outermost city on the Brazilian mainland), without an intermediate stop and with a remarkable freedom from trouble. Fernando Noronha and St. Paul's Rocks still accommodate French radio stations, which aid the navigation of the planes. Aside from that, the Germans are the only ones to make any use now of any South Atlantic islands; they stop at the Canaries (in order to avoid French territory) on their way from Europe to Bathurst (Gambia), their jumping-off place for South America.

Draw an arc upon the surface of the globe with New York as its center and with a radius of 3,350 statute miles. It will strike the Portuguese coast just north of Lisbon, cut the tip off the Breton Peninsula of France, pass through Devonshire, and finally miss the Scandinavian Peninsula by only a hundred miles. By flying no more than 3,400 miles it is possible for a line from New York to have a European terminus in Portugal, Spain, France, the United Kingdom or the Irish Free State -- with Norway only a little farther on. When the Azores drop out of the picture as a result of continued technical progress, no one European nation will have the sure grip on North Atlantic air commerce that both Portugal and the British Empire have had in the past.

In the South Atlantic, the center of the circle is Natal and the radius is 1,910 miles instead of 3,350. This arc would cut through the territory of one French, one Portuguese and two British colonies, as well as of Liberia. With a choice of four different sovereignties, terminals can be determined by competitive bidding among the African Powers. In the West, however, there is in effect no choice. From Monrovia to Montevideo it is 4,080 miles along the great circle. The distance from Senegal to French Guiana is not impossibly long, but a route from Africa to the principal cities in Argentina and Chile by way of French Guiana, Venezuela and the west coast of South America would be extremely roundabout. Brazil thus holds the throttle on air commerce between Europe and most of South America. In the North, the position of Canada and Newfoundland in intercontinental communications might be nearly as powerful as that of Brazil in the South were geographical advantages not offset by climatic drawbacks.

Several trans-Atlantic airlines are already in operation and a number of others are projected. The first French airline to Morocco was opened on September 19, 1919, and it was extended to Dakar on June 1, 1925. Two years later a French organization was set up in South America to operate a line between Natal and Buenos Aires; operations were begun on November 15, 1927. The African and South American sections were connected in the spring of the following year by small and obsolete destroyers turned over by the French Navy to maintain an express service between Dakar and Natal. The costs were fabulously out of proportion to the commercial result, for at times the average air mail ran as low as twenty pounds per trip. However, high costs and low commercial returns have not been a barrier to the establishment of any intercontinental airline that governments have for one reason or another found interesting. In 1928 the French Government was subsidizing the Aeropostale Company by about $2,750,000 a year in addition to the cost of operating the vessels across the South Atlantic. Over 80 percent of the total receipts of the company consisted of direct subsidies. In terms of traffic handled, the direct subsidy was at the rate of $8.90 per ton-mile. The first aërial crossing of the South Atlantic with air mail was made by Jean Mermoz on May 12, 1930, when letters were delivered in Buenos Aires four days after leaving Paris. Four years later the flights between Dakar and Natal began following a regular schedule. At present they are weekly, and more than two hundred of them have been made.

Mermoz had slipped in just a week ahead of the first German crossing by airship -- the Graf Zeppelin's maiden flight from Friedrichshafen to Pernambuco, south of Natal. The following summer a regular Graf Zeppelin service was started, which soon attained some fifteen round trips a year with an average of from twenty to twenty-five passengers each voyage. This service terminated when the Hindenburg disaster brought the decision to fly no more passengers in hydrogen-filled airships. While the Graf Zeppelin carried the passengers, Deutsche Luft Hansa planes carried the mail. These planes flew from Europe as far as the Cape Verdes, where the mail was transferred to a German vessel, which re-transferred it at Fernando Noronha to a seaplane of the Condor Syndicate, a German subsidiary in Brazil. Germany, like France, was active in South American air transport long before the regular crossing of the Atlantic by air became technically possible. Before 1925, airlines under German management were already operating in Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia (in the latter the renowned "Scadta," or Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transportes Aëreos).

In 1934 Germany ceased employing surface vessels to carry mail over any part of her air route to South America. Thereafter seaplanes were launched by catapult from the decks of the specially constructed motherships Westfalen and Schwabenland, instead of rising directly from the surface of the water. The first German route was via Seville, the Canaries and Bathurst; and it remains the same, except that Lisbon was substituted for Seville on the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. Though the Germans avoid French soil after leaving Marseilles, the commercial relations of Air France (the French nationalized air transport monopoly which has succeeded to Aeropostale) and of Deutsche Luft Hansa are excellent, and an alternation of schedules now gives a semi-weekly air mail service from Europe to the east coast of South America. This is the same frequency as Pan American's service from the United States to Brazil, though only half as frequent as its service to Argentina, which is reached four times weekly.

The interest of Italy and Great Britain in the South Atlantic route has been rising rapidly in recent months. Italian experimental and propaganda flights have been frequent, such as the record-breaking non-stop trip from Italy to Brazil in 1928, the mass flight by Marshal Balbo's squadron in 1931, and the recent tour by Colonel Biseo and Bruno Mussolini. British efforts have so far been concentrated on imperial communications. However, now that the Empire air network is pretty well developed, the Air Ministry is beginning to look elsewhere. A British company, a new and energetic rival of Imperial Airways, has plans for a route from England to Lisbon, thence to British West Africa, and ultimately across the Atlantic. The Dutch, too, have considered the possibility of running an airline to their West Indian possessions. In fact, all the major European states are displaying a lively interest in the development of national airlines to any parts of the world which seem to have commercial, political or strategic importance. It is quite possible that within the next three years three or four nations will be operating lines across the South Atlantic in place of the present two.

The same possibility exists in the North Atlantic, where the Germans, British, Americans and French -- in that order of intensity -- have been making plans and experimental flights. The only serious commercial operations have been by the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg, and even those have been officially classed as experimental, both because the American Government was unwilling to grant a permanent concession at so early a stage and because a Naval air station (Lakehurst) was serving as the American terminus. The Graf Zeppelin made a round trip in 1928 and another in 1929; the Hindenburg made ten trips, carrying an average of fifty or sixty passengers, before it met disaster.

For the British, the North Atlantic is the last barrier to the establishment of a complete system of imperial air communications. South Africa, India and Australia now have regular service from England. New Zealand is in the process of receiving it. Only Canada remains. Plans to include her in the network figured on the agenda of the Imperial Conferences held at Ottawa in 1932 and at London in 1937. The British, Irish and Canadian Governments have all made contributions to the establishment of new first-class bases at Botwood and Gander Lake in Newfoundland, and at Foynes near the mouth of the River Shannon in Ireland. The latter is to be replaced, according to present plans, by a much more elaborate airport near Limerick.

The British dream of developing all-British routes dies hard. Some Englishmen long urged that air traffic across the North Atlantic be kept purely imperial and that no concessions be made to the United States or any other nation. But other counsels have prevailed. Actually, Pan American Airways and Imperial Airways have long worked in close accord. At a conference in Washington in November 1935 the American and British Governments agreed upon a maximum of two round trips weekly under each flag during the next fifteen years. Pan American holds a permit to operate into the British Empire, in return for which Imperial will be allowed to fly into the United States. Though the precise terms of the agreement between the two governments have not been made public, it is nevertheless understood that American officials insisted on keeping the agreement sufficiently general to allow the governments to transfer operating permissions from Pan American or Imperial to other companies if they saw fit.

French and German operations on the North Atlantic are politically handicapped by the limited benefits those countries (especially Germany) have to offer in exchange for the right to enter American ports. Non-stop flights between the United States and France are a possibility of the comparatively near future, and there have been discussions of a Franco-American agreement quite independent of the Anglo-American one, in which an American and a French company would evenly divide the traffic between American and French ports. The French, like the British, are preparing air bases with a special eye to Atlantic service: their current selection is Biscarosse, near Bordeaux. There is also an almost incredibly grandiose plan for constructing an artificial lagoon in the immediate neighborhood of Paris to serve as a seaplane base.

Operation of an airline direct from the United States to Germany is quite out of the question for the time being; but Deutsche Luft Hansa, like Imperial Airways and Air France, maintains an intimate association with American developments, and a German catapult ship has visited New York on several occasions to launch seaplanes for flights to the Azores. Indeed, the first genuinely commercial use of heavier-than-air craft on the North Atlantic was by the Germans: in 1929 catapults were installed on the Bremen and the Europa for launching mail-carrying seaplanes while the boats were still 300 to 600 miles at sea, thereby speeding up the arrival of mail by twelve hours or more. The catapult service was abandoned when the Hindenburg began to carry mail across the ocean.

If airships are to be used -- and their supporters in America, though not very numerous, are extremely enthusiastic and have considerable backing in Washington -- German participation in a coöperative service is sure to be sought in order to take advantage of the unique German experience in commercial airship operation, unmarred by misadventure until the Hindenburg disaster. If, on the other hand, airplanes are to be the major vehicles of Atlantic service -- which at this moment seems more probable -- Germany's political position is strong only in so far as she is able to exert influence on Portugal or other areas geographically significant for the operation of the route. Contrary to reports widely published and accepted in France, there has been no formal agreement between either the French or German Governments and the American Government. Neither of them has received anything more than an experimental permit for entry into this country.

Undoubtedly the American policy will be to stimulate American operation between the continents, though it remains to be seen how much money will be provided for the process. Undoubtedly the American Government will continue to insist that there shall be no regular commercial operation into the United States under a foreign flag without simultaneous provision for an equal amount of American flying on the same route. The major uncertainty of the future concerns the position of Pan American Airways in relation to other American operators.

From the day that governments first began to support airlines on a grand scale, national monopolies have gradually become the general rule everywhere except in the United States. In almost every European country there were at one time many independent lines; but governmental pressure forced the process of consolidation that ultimately squeezed them down into a single company: e.g., Imperial Airways, Air France, Deutsche Luft Hansa, Ala Littoria and Koniklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij. Only in Great Britain has the reaction against monopoly in recent years led the government to encourage operators other than Imperial Airways. In the United States, competition has been the rule in domestic operation; but in foreign service Pan American Airways has had an effective American-flag monopoly. By very largely conducting its own diplomatic negotiations with foreign governments and by securing its own permits and contracts, Pan American has in ten years succeeded in expanding from the original Key West-Havana route into a network covering South and Central America, Alaska, the Pacific and China. Pan American's service to Bermuda, opened last June, was the first American commercial aërial invasion of the North Atlantic.

As in the case of Britain, two opposing views as to future air policy are being debated in the United States. According to one school, Pan American has made such a fine record under existing conditions that nothing should be done to jeopardize its position or to supplement it with other lines which might possibly be less of a credit to the United States. The advocates of the opposing doctrine maintain that monopoly is unjustified, that even Pan American would benefit by the spur of competition, and that -- whatever conditions may have been in Latin America -- the North Atlantic should have at least two American services, under different managements and running to different ports but along routes nearly enough parallel to compete with each other. As plans for trans-Atlantic service mature, it is apparent that for the first time in nearly ten years Pan American is likely to be confronted by strong and responsible competition. What distribution is to be made of American participation in North Atlantic air transport is a question that will have to be determined within the next few months, either by the present Administration or by some agency especially created for the purpose by Congress.

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  • EDWARD P. WARNER, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aëronautics, 1926-29; Editor of Aviation, 1929-1935; former Professor of Aëronautical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • More By Edward P. Warner