A transatlantic flight is the flight of an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, Africa, South Asia, or the Middle East to North America, Latin America, or vice versa. Such flights have been made by fixed-wing aircraft, airships, balloons and other aircraft.
Early aircraft engines did not have the reliability nor the power to lift the required fuel to make a transatlantic flight. There were difficulties navigating over the featureless expanse of water for thousands of miles, and the weather, especially in the North Atlantic, is unpredictable. Since the middle of the 20th century, however, transatlantic flight has become routine, for commercial, military, diplomatic, and other purposes.
The idea of transatlantic flight came about with the advent of the hot air balloon. The balloons of the period were inflated with coal gas, a moderate lifting medium compared to hydrogen or helium, but with enough lift to use the winds that would later be known as the Jet Stream. In 1859, John Wise built an enormous aerostat named the Atlantic, intending to cross the Atlantic. The flight lasted less than a day, crash-landing in Henderson, New York. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe prepared a massive balloon of 725,000 cubic feet (20,500 m3) called the City of New York to take off from Philadelphia in 1860, but was interrupted by the onset of the American Civil War in 1861. The first successful transatlantic flight in a balloon was the Double Eagle II from Presque Isle, Maine, to Miserey, near Paris in 1978.
In April 1913 the London newspaper The Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 (£470,000 in 2023) to
the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland and any point in Great Britain or Ireland" in 72 continuous hours.
The competition was suspended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 but reopened after Armistice was declared in 1918. The war saw tremendous advances in aerial capabilities, and a real possibility of transatlantic flight by aircraft emerged.
Between 8 and 31 May 1919, the Curtiss seaplane NC-4 made a crossing of the Atlantic flying from the U.S. to Newfoundland, then to the Azores, and on to mainland Portugal and finally the United Kingdom. The whole journey took 23 days, with six stops along the way. A trail of 53 "station ships" across the Atlantic gave the aircraft points to navigate by. This flight was not eligible for the Daily Mail prize since it took more than 72 consecutive hours and also because more than one aircraft was used in the attempt.
There were four teams competing for the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. They were Australian pilot Harry Hawker with observer Kenneth Mackenzie-Grieve in a single-engine Sopwith Atlantic; Frederick Raynham and C. W. F. Morgan in a Martinsyde; the Handley Page Group, led by Mark Kerr; and the Vickers entry John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown. Each group had to ship its aircraft to Newfoundland and make a rough field for the takeoff.
Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve made the first attempt on 18 May, but engine failure brought them down in the ocean where they were rescued. Raynham and Morgan also made an attempt on 18 May but crashed on takeoff due to the high fuel load. The Handley Page team was in the final stages of testing its aircraft for the flight in June, but the Vickers group was ready earlier.
Main article: Transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown
During 14–15 June 1919, the British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight. During the War, Alcock resolved to fly the Atlantic, and after the war he approached the Vickers engineering and aviation firm at Weybridge, which had considered entering its Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber in the competition but had not yet found a pilot. Alcock's enthusiasm impressed Vickers's team, and he was appointed as its pilot. Work began on converting the Vimy for the long flight, replacing its bomb racks with extra petrol tanks. Shortly afterwards Brown, who was unemployed, approached Vickers seeking a post and his knowledge of long-distance navigation convinced them to take him on as Alcock's navigator.
Vickers's team quickly assembled its plane and at around 1:45 p.m. on 14 June, while the Handley Page team was conducting yet another test, the Vickers plane took off from Lester's Field, in St John's, Newfoundland.
Alcock and Brown flew the modified Vickers Vimy, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines. It was not an easy flight, with unexpected fog, and a snow storm almost causing the crewmen to crash into the sea. Their altitude varied between sea level and 12,000 feet (3,700 m) and upon takeoff, they carried 865 imperial gallons (3,900 L) of fuel. They made landfall in Clifden, County Galway at 8:40 a.m. on 15 June 1919, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours of flying.
The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presented Alcock and Brown with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in "less than 72 consecutive hours". There was a small amount of mail carried on the flight making it also the first transatlantic airmail flight. The two aviators were knighted one week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.
The first transatlantic flight by rigid airship, and the first return transatlantic flight, was made just a couple of weeks after the transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown, on 2 July 1919. Major George Herbert Scott of the Royal Air Force flew the airship R34 with his crew and passengers from RAF East Fortune, Scotland to Mineola, New York (on Long Island), covering a distance of about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) in about four and a half days.
The flight was intended as a testing ground for postwar commercial services by airship (see Imperial Airship Scheme), and it was the first flight to transport paying passengers. The R34 wasn't built as a passenger carrier, so extra accommodations was arranged by slinging hammocks in the keel walkway. The return journey to Pulham in Norfolk, was from 10 to 13 July over some 75 hours.
The first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic was made by the Portuguese naval aviators Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral in 1922. Coutinho and Cabral flew from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in stages, using three different Fairey III biplanes, and they covered a distance of 8,383 kilometres (5,209 mi) between 30 March and 17 June.
The first transatlantic flight between Spain and South America was completed in January 1926 with a crew of Spanish aviators on board Plus Ultra, a Dornier Do J flying boat; the crew was the captain Ramón Franco, co-pilot Julio Ruiz de Alda Miqueleiz, Teniente de Navio (Navy Lieutenant), Juan Manuel Durán, and Pablo Rada.
The first transpolar flight eastbound and the first flight crossing the North Pole ever, was the airship carrying Norwegian explorer and pilot Roald Amundsen on 11 May 1926. He flew with the airship "NORGE" ("Norway") piloted by the Italian colonel Umberto Nobile, non-stop from Svalbard, Norway to Teller, Alaska, USA. The flight lasted for 72 hours.
The first night-time crossing of the South Atlantic was accomplished during 16–17 April 1927 by the Portuguese aviators Sarmento de Beires, Jorge de Castilho and Manuel Gouveia, flying from the Bijagós Archipelago, Portuguese Guinea, to Fernando de Noronha, Brazil in the Argos, a Dornier Wal flying boat.
In the early morning of 20 May 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, Mineola, New York, on his successful attempt to fly nonstop from New York to the European continental land mass. Over the next 33.5 hours, Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis encountered many challenges before landing at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, at 10:22 p.m. on 21 May 1927, completing the first solo crossing of the Atlantic.
The first east-west non-stop transatlantic crossing by an aeroplane was made in 1928 by the Bremen, a German Junkers W33 type aircraft, from Baldonnel Airfield in County Dublin, Ireland.
On 18 August 1932 Jim Mollison made the first east-to-west solo trans-Atlantic flight; flying from Portmarnock in Ireland to Pennfield, New Brunswick, Canada in a de Havilland Puss Moth.
In 1936 the first woman aviator to cross the Atlantic east to west, and the first person to fly solo from England to North America, was Beryl Markham. She wrote about her adventures in her memoir, West with the Night.
The first transpolar transatlantic (and transcontinental) crossing was the non-stop flightpiloted by the crew led by Valery Chkalov covering some 8,811 kilometres (5,475 mi) over 63 hours from Moscow, Russia to Vancouver, Washington from 18–20 June 1937.
On 11 October 1928, Hugo Eckener, commanding the airship Graf Zeppelin as part of DELAG's operations, began the first non-stop transatlantic passenger flights, leaving Friedrichshafen, Germany, at 07:54 on 11 October 1928, and arriving at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, on 15 October.
Thereafter, DELAG used the Graf Zeppelin on regular scheduled passenger flights across the North Atlantic, from Frankfurt-am-Main to Lakehurst. In the summer of 1931 a South Atlantic route was introduced, from Frankfurt and Friedrichshafen to Recife and Rio de Janeiro. Between 1931 and 1937 the Graf Zeppelin crossed the South Atlantic 136 times.
The British rigid airship R100 made a successful return trip from Cardington to Montreal in July–August 1930, in what was intended to be a proving flight for regularly scheduled passenger services. Following the R101 disaster in October 1930, the British rigid airship program was abandoned and the R100 scrapped, leaving DELAG as the sole remaining operator of transatlantic passenger airship flights.
In 1936 DELAG began passenger flights with LZ 129 Hindenburg, and made 36 Atlantic crossings (North and South). The first passenger trip across the North Atlantic left Friedrichshafen on 6 May with 56 crew and 50 passengers, arriving Lakehurst on 9 May. Fare was $400 one way; the ten westward trips that season took 53 to 78 hours and eastward took 43 to 61 hours. The last eastward trip of the year left Lakehurst on 10 October; the first North Atlantic trip of 1937 ended in the Hindenburg disaster.
It would take two more decades after Alcock and Brown's first nonstop flight across the Atlantic in 1919, before commercial airplane flights became practical. The North Atlantic presented severe challenges for aviators due to weather and the long distances involved, with few stopping points. Initial transatlantic services, therefore, focused on the South Atlantic, where a number of French, German, and Italian airlines offered seaplane service for mail between South America and West Africa in the 1930s.
Between February 1934 and August 1939 Lufthansa operated a regular airmail service between Natal, Brazil, and Bathurst, Gambia, continuing via the Canary Islands and Spain to Stuttgart, Germany. From December 1935, Air France opened a regular weekly airmail route between South America and Africa. German airlines, such as Deutsche Luft Hansa, experimented with mail routes over the North Atlantic in the early 1930s, with flying boats and dirigibles.
In the 1930s a flying boat route was the only practical means of transatlantic air travel, as land-based aircraft lacked sufficient range for the crossing. An agreement between the governments of the US, Britain, Canada, and the Irish Free State in 1935 set aside the Irish town of Foynes, the most westerly port in Ireland, as the terminal for all such services to be established.
Imperial Airways had bought the Short Empire flying boat, primarily for use along the empire routes to Africa, Asia and Australia, and had established an international airport on Darrell's Island, in the Imperial fortress colony of Bermuda (640 miles off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina), which began serving both Imperial Airways (subsequently renamed British Overseas Airways Corporation, or BOAC) and Pan American World Airways (PAA) flights from the United States in 1936, but began exploring the possibility of using it for transatlantic flights from 1937. PAA would begin scheduled trans-Atlantic flights via Bermuda before Imperial Airways did, enabling the United States Government to covertly assist the British Government before the United States entry into the Second World War as mail was taken off trans-Atlantic PAA flights by the Imperial Censorship of British Security Co-ordination to search for secret communications from Axis spies operating in the United States, including the Joe K ring, with information gained being shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The range of the Short Empire flying boat was less than that of the equivalent US Sikorsky "Clipper" flying boats and as such was initially unable to provide a true trans-Atlantic service.
Two flying boats (Caledonia and Cambria) were lightened and given long range tanks to increase the aircraft's range to 3,300 miles (5,300 km).
In the US, attention was at first focused on transatlantic flight for a faster postal service between Europe and the United States. In 1931 W. Irving Glover, the second assistant postmaster, wrote an article for Popular Mechanics on the challenges and the need for a regular service. In the 1930s, under the direction of Juan Trippe, Pan American began to get interested in the feasibility of a transatlantic passenger service using flying boats.
On 5 July 1937, A.S. Wilcockson flew a Short Empire for Imperial Airways from Foynes to Botwood, Newfoundland and Harold Gray piloted a Sikorsky S-42 for Pan American in the opposite direction. Both flights were a success and both airlines made a series of subsequent proving flights that same year to test out a variety of different weather conditions. Air France also became interested and began experimental flights in 1938.
As the Short Empire only had enough range with enlarged fuel tanks at the expense of passenger room, a number of pioneering experiments were done with the aircraft to work around the problem. It was known that aircraft could maintain flight with a greater load than is possible to take off with, so Major Robert H. Mayo, Technical general manager at Imperial Airways, proposed mounting a small, long-range seaplane on top of a larger carrier aircraft, using the combined power of both to bring the smaller aircraft to operational height, at which time the two aircraft would separate, the carrier aircraft returning to base while the other flew on to its destination.
The Short Mayo Composite project, co-designed by Mayo and Shorts chief designer Arthur Gouge, comprised the Short S.21 Maia, (G-ADHK) which was a variant of the Short "C-Class" Empire flying-boat fitted with a trestle or pylon on the top of the fuselage to support the Short S.20 Mercury(G-ADHJ).
The first successful in-flight separation of the Composite was carried out on 6 February 1938, and the first transatlantic flight was made on 21 July 1938 from Foynes to Boucherville. Mercury, piloted by Captain Don Bennett, separated from her carrier at 8 pm to continue what was to become the first commercial non-stop east-to-west transatlantic flight by a heavier-than-air machine. This initial journey took 20 hrs, 21 min at an average ground speed of 144 miles per hour (232 km/h).
Another technology developed for the purpose of transatlantic commercial flight, was aerial refuelling. Sir Alan Cobham developed the Grappled-line looped-hose system to stimulate the possibility for long-range transoceanic commercial aircraft flights, and publicly demonstrated it for the first time in 1935. In the system the receiver aircraft trailed a steel cable which was then grappled by a line shot from the tanker. The line was then drawn back into the tanker where the receiver's cable was connected to the refueling hose. The receiver could then haul back in its cable bringing the hose to it. Once the hose was connected, the tanker climbed sufficiently above the receiver aircraft to allow the fuel to flow under gravity.
Cobham founded Flight Refuelling Ltd in 1934 and by 1938 had demonstrated the FRL's looped-hose system to refuel the Short Empire flying boat Cambria from an Armstrong Whitworth AW.23. Handley Page Harrows were used in the 1939 trials to aerial refuel the Empire flying boats for regular transatlantic crossings. From 5 August – 1 October 1939, sixteen crossings of the Atlantic were made by Empire flying boats, with 15 crossings using FRL's aerial refueling system. After the 16 crossings more trials were suspended due to the outbreak of World War II.
The Short S.26 was built in 1939 as an enlarged Short Empire, powered by four 1,400 hp (1,044 kW) Bristol Hercules sleeve valve radial engines and designed with the capability of crossing the Atlantic without refuelling. It was intended to form the backbone of Imperial Airways' Empire services. It could fly 6,000 miles (9,700 km) unburdened, or 150 passengers for a "short hop". On 21 July 1939, the first aircraft, (G-AFCI "Golden Hind"), was first flown at Rochester by Shorts' chief test pilot, John Lankester Parker. Although two aircraft were handed over to Imperial Airways for crew training, all three were impressed (along with their crews) into the RAF before they could begin civilian operation with the onset of World War II.
Meanwhile, Pan Am bought nine Boeing 314 Clippers in 1939, a long-range flying boat capable of flying the Atlantic. The "Clippers" were built for "one-class" luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of transoceanic flights. The seats could be converted into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation; with a cruising speed of only 188 miles per hour (303 km/h). The 314s had a lounge and dining area, and the galleys were crewed by chefs from four-star hotels. Men and women were provided with separate dressing rooms, and white-coated stewards served five and six-course meals with gleaming silver service.
The Yankee Clipper's inaugural trip across the Atlantic was on 24 June 1939. Its route was from Southampton to Port Washington, New York with intermediate stops at Foynes, Ireland, Botwood, Newfoundland, and Shediac, New Brunswick. Its first passenger flight was on 9 July, and this continued only until the onset of the Second World War, less than two months later. The Clipper fleet was then pressed into military service and the flying boats were used for ferrying personnel and equipment to the European and Pacific fronts.
In 1938 a Lufthansa Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor long range airliner flew non-stop from Berlin to New York and returned non-stop as a proving flight for the development of passenger carrying services. This was the first landplane to fulfil this function and marked a departure from the British and American reliance on flying boats for long over-water routes. A regular Lufthansa Transatlantic service was planned but didn't begin until after World War II.
It was from the emergency exigencies of World War II that crossing the Atlantic by land-based aircraft became a practical and commonplace possibility. With the Fall of France in June 1940, and the loss of much war materiel on the continent, the need for the British to purchase replacement materiel from the United States was urgent. Airbases for refuelling were built in Greenland and Iceland, which were occupied by the United States after the German invasion of Denmark (1940).
The British and United States Government hurried a secret agreement before Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 for the United States to establish a base in Bermuda. Ultimately, the agreement would be expanded to include a United States Naval Operating Base, containing a Naval Air Station serving anti-submarine flying boats, on the Great Sound (near to the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda, Royal Naval Air Station Bermuda that had been operated for the Royal Navy with the rest of the Fleet Air Arm at its original location in HM Dockyard Bermuda until 1939 by the Royal Air Force, and the Darrell's Island airport, which was taken over by the Royal Air Force for trans-Atlantic ferrying of flying boats such as the Catalinas, which were flown there from United States factories to be tested prior to acceptance by the Air Ministry and delivery across the Atlantic, usually on direct flights to Greenock, Scotland. RAF Transport Command flights, such as those flown by Coronados, also utilised the facility as BOAC and PAA continued to do) and Kindley Field, serving landplanes, constructed by the United states Army for operation by the United States Army Air Forces, but to be used jointly by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. In January, 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Bermuda on his return to Britain, following December 1941 meetings in Washington D.C., with US President Franklin Roosevelt, in the weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Churchill flew into Darrell's Island on the BOAC Boeing 314 Berwick. Although it had been planned to continue the journey aboard the battleship HMS Duke of York, he made an impulsive decision to complete it by a direct flight from Bermuda to Plymouth, England aboard Berwick, marking the first trans-Atlantic air crossing by a national leader. When the first runway at Kindley Field became operational in 1943, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm relocated Roc target tugs that had been operating on floats from RNAS Bermuda to the airfield to operate as landplanes, and RAF Transport Command moved its operations there, leaving RAF Ferry Command at Darrell's Island.
The time taken for an aircraft – such as the Lockheed Hudson – bought in the United States, to be flown to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and then partially dis-assembled before being transported by ship to England, where it was re-assembled and subject to repairs of any damage sustained during shipment, could mean an aircraft could not enter service for several weeks. Further, German U-boats operating in the North Atlantic Ocean made it particularly hazardous for merchant ships between Newfoundland and Britain.
Larger aircraft could be flown directly to the UK and an organization was set up to manage this using civilian pilots. The program was begun by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Its minister, Lord Beaverbrook a Canadian by origin, reached an agreement with Sir Edward Beatty, a friend and chairman of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to provide ground facilities and support. Ministry of Aircraft Production would provide civilian crews and management and former RAF officer Don Bennett, a specialist in long distance flying and later Air Vice Marshal and commander of the Pathfinder Force, led the first delivery flight in November 1940.
In 1941, MAP took the operation off CPR to put the whole operation under the Atlantic Ferry Organization ("Atfero") was set up by Morris W. Wilson, a banker in Montreal. Wilson hired civilian pilots to fly the aircraft to the UK. The pilots were then ferried back in converted RAF Liberators. "Atfero hired the pilots, planned the routes, selected the airports [and] set up weather and radiocommunication stations."
The organization was passed to Air Ministry administration though retaining civilian pilots, some of which were Americans, alongside RAF navigators and British radio operators. After completing delivery, crews were flown back to Canada for the next run. RAF Ferry Command was formed on 20 July 1941, by the raising of the RAF Atlantic Ferry Service to Command status. Its commander for its whole existence was Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill.
As its name suggests, the main function of Ferry Command was the ferrying of new aircraft from factory to operational unit. Ferry Command did this over only one area of the world, rather than the more general routes that Transport Command later developed. The Command's operational area was the north Atlantic, and its responsibility was to bring the larger aircraft that had the range to do the trip over the ocean from American and Canadian factories to the RAF home Commands.
With the entry of the United States into the War, the Atlantic Division of the United States Army Air Forces Air Transport Command began similar ferrying services to transport aircraft, supplies and passengers to the British Isles.
By September 1944 British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), as Imperial Airways had by then become, had made 1,000 transatlantic crossings.
After World War II long runways were available, and North American and European carriers such as Pan Am, TWA, Trans Canada Airlines (TCA), BOAC, and Air France acquired larger piston airliners that could cross the North Atlantic with stops (usually in Gander, Newfoundland and/or Shannon, Ireland). In January 1946 Pan Am's Douglas DC-4 was scheduled New York (La Guardia) to London (Hurn) in 17 hours 40 minutes, five days a week; in June 1946 Lockheed L-049 Constellations had brought the eastward time to London Heathrow down to 15 hr 15 min.
To aid aircraft crossing the Atlantic, six nations grouped to divide the Atlantic into ten zones. Each zone had a letter and a vessels station in that zone, providing radio relay, radio navigation beacons, weather reports and rescues if an aircraft went down. The six nations of the group split the cost of these vessels.
The September 1947 ABC Guide shows 27 passenger flights a week west across the North Atlantic to the US and Canada on BOAC and other European airlines and 151 flights every two weeks on Pan Am, AOA, TWA and TCA, 15 flights a week to the Caribbean and South America, plus three a month on Iberia and a Latécoère 631 six-engine flying boat every two weeks to Fort de France.
In May 1952, BOAC was the first airline to introduce a passenger jet, the de Havilland Comet, into airline service, operating on routes in Europe and beyond (but not transatlantic). All Comet 1 aircraft were grounded in April 1954 after four Comets crashed, the last two being BOAC aircraft which suffered catastrophic failure at altitude. Later jet airliners, including the larger and longer-range Comet 4, were designed so that in the event of for example a skin-failure due to cracking the damage would be localized and not catastrophic.
On 4 October 1958, BOAC started the "first-ever transatlantic jet service" between London Heathrow and New York Idlewild with a Comet 4, and Pan Am followed on 26 October with a Boeing 707 service between New York and Paris.
Supersonic flights on Concorde were offered from 1976 to 2003, from London (by British Airways) and Paris (by Air France) to New York and Washington, and back, with flight times of around three and a half hours one-way. Since the loosening of regulations in the 1970s and 1980s, many airlines now compete across the Atlantic.
In 2015, 44 million seats were offered on the transatlantic routes, an increase of 6% over the previous year. Of the 67 European airports with links to North America, the busiest was London Heathrow Airport with 231,532 weekly seats, followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport with 129,831, Frankfurt Airport with 115,420, and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol with 79,611. Of the 45 airports in North America, the busiest linked to Europe was New York John F. Kennedy International Airport with 198,442 seats, followed by Toronto Pearson International Airport with 90,982, New York Newark Liberty International Airport with 79,107, and Chicago O'Hare International Airport with 75,391 seats.
|Delta Air Lines||2.79||5.33||91%|
Joint ventures, allowing coordination on prices, schedules, and strategy, control almost 75% of Transatlantic capacity. They are parallel to airline alliances: British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines are part of Oneworld; Lufthansa, Air Canada and United Airlines are members of Star Alliance; and Delta Air Lines, Air France, KLM and Alitalia belong to SkyTeam. Low cost carriers are starting to compete on this market, most importantly Norwegian Air Shuttle, WestJet and WOW Air. A total of 431 non-stop routes between North America and Europe were scheduled for summer 2017, up 84 routes from 347 in 2012 – a 24% increase.
In 2016 Dr. Paul Williams of the University of Reading published a scientific study showing that transatlantic flight times are expected to change as the North Atlantic jet stream responds to global warming, with eastbound flights speeding up and westbound flights slowing down.
In February 2017, Norwegian Air International announced it would start transatlantic flights to the United States from the United Kingdom and Ireland in summer 2017 on behalf of its parent company using the parent's new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft expected to be delivered from May 2017. Norwegian Air performed its first transatlantic flight with a Boeing 737-800 on 16 June 2017 between Edinburgh Airport and Stewart Airport, New York. The first transatlantic flight with a 737 MAX was performed on 15 July 2017, with a MAX 8 named Sir Freddie Laker, between Edinburgh Airport in Scotland and Hartford International Airport in the US state of Connecticut, followed by a second rotation from Edinburgh to Stewart Airport, New York.
Long-haul low-cost carriers are emerging on the transatlantic market with 545,000 seats offered over 60 city pairs in September 2017 (a 66% growth over one year), compared to 652,000 seats over 96 pairs for leisure airlines[definition needed] and 8,798,000 seats over 357 pairs for mainline carriers. LCC seat grew to 7.7% of North Atlantic seats in 2018 from 3.0% in 2016, led by Norwegian with 4.8% then WOW air with 1.6% and WestJet with 0.6%, while the three airline alliances dedicated joint ventures seat share is 72.3%, down from 79.8% in 2015. By July 2018, Norwegian became the largest European airline for New York, carrying 1.67 million passengers over a year, beating British Airways's 1.63 million, while the U.S. major carriers combined transported 26.1 million transatlantic passengers.
See also: Atlantic Bridge (flight route)
Unlike over land, transatlantic flights use standardized aircraft routes called North Atlantic Tracks (NATs). These change daily in position (although altitudes are standardized) to compensate for weather—particularly the jet stream tailwinds and headwinds, which may be substantial at cruising altitudes and have a strong influence on trip duration and fuel economy. Eastbound flights generally operate during night-time hours, while westbound flights generally operate during daytime hours, for passenger convenience. The eastbound flow, as it is called, generally makes European landfall from about 0600UT to 0900UT. The westbound flow generally operates within a 1200–1500UT time slot. Restrictions on how far a given aircraft may be from an airport also play a part in determining its route; in the past, airliners with three or more engines were not restricted, but a twin-engine airliner was required to stay within a certain distance of airports that could accommodate it (since a single engine failure in a four-engine aircraft is less crippling than a single engine failure in a twin). Modern aircraft with two engines flying transatlantic (the most common models used for transatlantic service being the Airbus A330, Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787) have to be ETOPS certified.
Gaps in air traffic control and radar coverage over large stretches of the Earth's oceans, as well as an absence of most types of radio navigation aids, impose a requirement for a high level of autonomy in navigation upon transatlantic flights. Aircraft must include reliable systems that can determine the aircraft's course and position with great accuracy over long distances. In addition to the traditional compass, inertials and satellite navigation systems such as GPS all have their place in transatlantic navigation. Land-based systems such as VOR and DME, because they operate "line of sight", are mostly useless for ocean crossings, except in initial and final legs within about 240 nautical miles (440 km) of those facilities. In the late 1950s and early 1960s an important facility for low-flying aircraft was the Radio Range. Inertial navigation systems became prominent in the 1970s.
The twenty busiest commercial routes between North America and Europe (traffic traveling in both directions) in 2010 were:
|1||John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||2,501,546|
|2||Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, United States||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||1,388,367|
|3||John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States||Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France||1,159,089|
|4||O'Hare International Airport Chicago, United States||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||1,110,231|
|5||Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Montreal, Canada||Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France||1,105,007|
|6||Newark Liberty International Airport, New York City, United States||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||1,065,842|
|7||Toronto Pearson International Airport, Toronto, Canada||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||926,239|
|8||O'Hare Airport Chicago, United States||Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany||866,733|
|9||Logan International Airport, Boston, United States||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||851,728|
|10||San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, United States||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||841,549|
|11||Miami International Airport, Miami, United States||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||795,014|
|12||John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States||Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany||710,876|
|13||John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States||Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain||690,624|
|14||Washington Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C., United States||Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany||659,532|
|15||Orlando International Airport, Orlando, United States||Gatwick Airport, London, United Kingdom||648,400|
|16||Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Detroit, United States||Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Amsterdam, Netherlands||613,971|
|17||John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States||Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, Rome, Italy||563,129|
|18||Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, United States||Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France||558,868|
|19||San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, United States||Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany||537,888|
|20||George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, United States||Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom||528,987|
In September 2013, Jonathan Trappe lifted off from Caribou, Maine, United States in an attempt to make the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by cluster balloon. The craft was essentially a small yellow lifeboat attached to 370 balloons filled with helium. A short time later, due to difficulty controlling the balloons, Trappe was forced to land near the town of York Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Trappe had expected to arrive in Europe sometime between three and six days after liftoff. The craft ascended by the dropping of ballast, and was to drift at an altitude of up to 25,000 ft (7.6 km). It was intended to follow wind currents toward Europe, the intended destination, although unpredictable wind currents could have forced the craft to North Africa or Norway. To descend, Trappe would have popped or released some of the balloons. The last time the Atlantic was crossed by helium balloon was in 1984 by Colonel Joe Kittinger.
The fastest transatlantic flight was done by a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird from New York to London in 1 hour 55 minutes in 1974. The fastest time for an airliner is 2 hours 53 minutes for JFK–London Heathrow by Concorde in 1996. The fastest JFK-LHR time for a subsonic airliner is 4 hours 56 minutes by a British Airways Boeing 747-400 in February 2020. The distance JFK-LHR is 5,540 kilometres (3,440 mi).
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