KLM celebrates its 100th birthday

Many KLM planes received a "100"-sticker to celebrate the anniversary. Photo: © Alessandro Ambrosetti

Dutch flag carrier, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, or Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij was founded 100 years ago today, on 7th October 1919. Today, it remains the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name. It carries the slogan ‘The Flying Dutchman’.

On Monday, the airline held a celebration event in one of its hangars at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, where it invited 100 journalists from around the world to join in the centenary celebrations.

The first KLM flight wasn’t until 17th May 1920, when a DeHaviland DH-16 registered as G-EALU flew from London’s Croydon Airport, across the English Channel and North Sea in bad weather to Amsterdam, carrying just two journalists commanded by British pilot Jerry Shaw. This was also to be the start of a close relationship with the United Kingdom that lasts to this day.

The Amsterdam Schiphol-based carrier operates a fleet of 120 aircraft, comprised of a mix of 107 Boeing aircraft and 13 Airbus A330s. Its regional subsidiary, KLM CityHopper (itself founded in 1991) operates a fleet of 49 Embraer E-jet aircraft. Over its 100 year history, the airline has always maintained its colour scheme of Delft Blue, which has become an industry icon over numerous iterations of liveries.

KLM uses its Western European location as a hugely successful hub-and-spoke base to reach some 145 global destinations. Interestingly, the success of this model can be typified by the fact that KLM operates out of more UK airports than all but one airline in the world (British regional carrier Flybe), flying to/from 16 different UK destinations – a nice tie in to its early British connections.

In 1993, KLM joined forces with US carrier Northwest Airlines, and in 1994 purchased a 25% stake in the American airline. The two airlines maintained a close operational relationship, with Northwest even operating a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 in split Northwest-KLM livery, until Northwest was bought out by Delta Airlines in 2008. In 2003, KLM merged with Air France, to create Air France-KLM, whilst both airlines retained their individual brands. The passenger division of Dutch airline Martinair was bought by KLM in 2010, and all of Martinair’s routes and staff were merged into KLM. Martinair’s cargo operation remained a separate entity and still operates independently today.

In a fleet modernisation program, KLM is retiring its iconic Boeing 747-400 fleet by 2021, all of which are set to be replaced with the Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 787-9 and -10 Dreamliner. For it’s short-haul fleet, the airline operates a fleet of 51 Boeing 737 NG aircraft, with 16 -700’s set to be replaced with -800 models by the end of 2022. No further short-haul aircraft orders have been announced, however it is expected that there will be an announcement in the near future, as the airline’s oldest 737NG’s are already 20 years old, having first been delivered in 1999.

The airline received it’s first of eight Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners (registered PH-BKA) in a commemorative ‘KLM100’ livery in June. KLM had originally ordered 21 Boeing 787 and seven Airbus A350-900s, but in an order reshuffle, KLM is set to take six additional 787-9’s originally destined for Air France, while KLM’s A350 order has been transferred to Air France.