Portrait of Pierre-Georges Latécoère

Pierre-Georges Latécoère was a 35-year-old French industrialist, known for his intelligence, patriotism and exceptional business sense. Immediately after the First World War, he converted his train car assembly factory to an aeronautic construction plant; it became the most important plant of its kind in France.

Pierre-Georges Latécoère
Pierre-Georges Latécoère, founder of the company
Courtesy of Musée Air France
Before the first airplane had even crossed the Atlantic, Latécoère had a crazy dream of creating an air route that would link Europe, Africa and South America. Surprised that so pragmatic a man would propose such a project during wartime, French bureaucrats considered the project with reservations.

But this did not stop Latécoère. The war, in fact, highlighted the possibilities of aviation. Although they were temporary, and were used primarily for military purposes, some airmail links were established before the Armistice. Latécoère's dream, from the start, was to create a 13,000-kilometre aerial postal route from Toulouse to Tierra del Fuego.

Loading tests
Loading tests being carried out on a stabilizer in Toulouse, 1923.
French industrialist Pierre-Georges Latécoère established his aeronautical construction plant in 1917.
Courtesy of Archives Latécoère
Under his plan, Dakar would be the starting point for a transatlantic line, which would eventually connect to a network of air routes heading towards the east coast of South America. At the time, Latécoère was seen as insane to imagine an air route crossing the Pyrenees, Spain and the Sahara. But he was stubborn: he bought several Salmson biplanes, which he converted from military to commercial use. Morocco, with its 80,000 Europeans, offered a promising market; the country's major cities were already linked by boat and by train. In those days, South America traded 2,000 tons of letters with Europe annually; such trade between Paris and Buenos Aires or Rio amounted to 50 billion francs per year. On November 11, 1918, the day of the Armistice, Latécoère founded his company: Latécoère General Aeronautic Enterprises Company. "Looking over my calculations again, I have to agree with the experts: my plan won't work! . . . There's only one thing left for me to do: I have to make it work!"

On December 25, 1918, Latécoère decided to initiate the first stage of what would later be known as the "line". Flying a military Salmson 2, and assisted by pilot René Cornemont, he took off from Toulouse. After a perfect flight of 2 hours and 20 minutes, they landed in Barcelona. The second stage was to connect Barcelona to Alicante in Spain. On March 3, 1919, two Salmsons, one flown by Paul Junquet and Latécoère, and the other by Henri Lemaître and Beppo di Massimi, took off during a heavy rainstorm. The planes were forced to make an emergency landing, but no one was injured. The dream was possible! On July 7, 1919, the French government granted Latécoère a contract for the Toulouse-Rabat line, with five-year operating rights.