KLM - Royal Dutch Airlines

100 Years of KLM

Manfred Mittelgang
3 minutes

100 years of KLM – if that is no reason to celebrate! The number of centenarians may be growing in general, but airlines with a centennial history? KLM is unrivalled in this respect. Founded on October 7th 1919, it is the oldest still existing airline in the world.

But what does KLM stand for? KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is called Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij in its Dutch mother tongue – however you pronounce it, this explains the meaning of the three famous letters! While KLM’s headquarters are in Amstelveen, the airline’s “home port” is Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Let’s take off from Schiphol for a short sightseeing flight through KLM’s long history! Please fasten your seat belts – take off!

Down there, the year 1918.

Pilot and businessman Albert Plesman is standing before the newly founded Royal Dutch Aviation Commission. The First World War is over and new opportunities for air traffic are being sought. It was an aviation exhibition which Plesman had in mind and which was realised in 1918. More importantly, the Commission now wants to create a national airline!

Climbing flight

Albert Plesman and aircraft manufacturer Anthony Fokker quickly gain altitude with the capital of various Dutch investors. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands awards the airline the title “koninklijk”. It can go on like this!

We fly over the year 1927

From the window we see a scheduled flight on its way from Amsterdam to Batavia. As a state-owned airline, KLM now has the task of providing the air traffic to the colony of Dutch India, today’s Indonesia.

Oops, what was that in 1934?

Yes, a turbulence! KLM switches to aircraft of the American manufacturer Douglas and deselects the Fokker aircraft. The KLM co-founder is not amused.


Grey war clouds darken the sky. What is that on the horizon? A KLM aircraft painted in bright orange? Correct: KLM aircraft from the neutral Netherlands needed to be better recognized in wartime.


On May 21, 1946, KLM becomes the first airline to fly from Europe to New York.

And formation flight

In 2004 KLM joins the SkyTeam aviation alliance. Today, in 2019, KLM has a fleet of 120 aircraft.

Before we set off again for the landing in Schiphol, we pass the time with anecdotes: Kings and princes like to be active as pilots today. But did you know that the Dutch King Willem-Alexander regularly sits in KLM’s cockpit as a co-pilot?

And: Centenarians often have wise ideas: For example: What do you do with a decommissioned aircraft? Simply scrap it? Not so at KLM! They had a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 converted into a holiday home! That is imaginative and – you must have been waiting for this word – sustainable. A concept that – as we will see  – fits perfectly with KLM.

Attention! Landing – we have Dutch ground under our feet again – and still not seen everything. After all, what is this light blue UFO parked far out on the airfield? It’s the Flying V – a technically highly innovative construction on which the University of Delft and KLM are working together. The aircraft does not have a central fuselage, but two. This technology carrier with a V-shaped silhouette is to fly almost emission-free in the future.

The KLM FLY RESPONSIBILY campaign, on the other hand, is completely now and already completely real. Against the background of the climate protection debate, KLM is setting several important accents here. On the one hand, the airline wants to share its expertise in sustainability technologies with its competitors. On the other hand, it also includes passengers who are advised not to take short-haul flights, for example, and to choose other mobility options. This triad KLM – passenger- aviation industry is cleverly orchestrated. If KLM, as a pioneer in aviation-related sustainability, is in charge of the baton for a while, this could be a win-win situation for everyone involved: Courageous and koninklijk – very KLM indeed.

by Manfred Mittelgang

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