Albert Louis Deullin
Chief pilot of CFRNA and co-founder of the company.
The CFRNA’s first chief executive.
A French general, later chief executive of the Franco-Romanian Air Transport Company.
A Romanian diplomat and politician, former foreign minister and former president of the Assembly of the League of Nations, and a member of the Romanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference.
An entrepreneur, banker, heir to the Marmorosch Blank financial empire, and financial supporter of the CFRNA.
Pierre Claret de Fleurieu
A French nobleman, aviator and war hero who devised the plan to establish the CFRNA and create its infrastructure.
Nicolae Titulescu and Maurice Duval at the Trianon Palace.
The story of the Franco-Romanian Air Transport Company (CFRNA) is an extraordinary episode in the history of Romanian and French aviation. It is a tale of courage, daring, vision, and what we can achieve when interests coincide, cultures work together, and French pilots and officials join forces with Romanian businessmen and statesmen. It is a memorable and truly inspirational chapter in the history of Romanian entrepreneurship which is often overlooked, and it is perhaps for precisely that reason that I got such tremendous pleasure out of looking into it.
A hundred years on from the signing of the agreement that laid the foundations of the first transcontinental airline, the story is being brought to light by Albini Prassa, and its memory is being honoured by the launch of the limited-edition Tissot Heritage Navigator “Sageata Orientului / Flèche d’Orient” (Orient Arrow).
Below, let me take you through the story as I have pieced it together from official and unofficial archives, with photographs from the period and moments in the lives of the protagonists of this fascinating episode in the history of aviation and Romanian entrepreneurship.
A map of Europe in the 1920s following the border changes brought about by the First World War.
King Ferdinand I congratulating Pilot Deullin, 20 October 1921.
1906 – Traian Vuia
Made one of the first self-propelled flights in a heavier-than-air aircraft.
1910 – Aurel Vlaicu
After experimenting with several models of gliders, in 1910, Vlaicu finished building one of the first aircraft in Romania, which was used later that year to send military messages.
1910 – Henry Coandă
Made the first-ever flight in a jet aircraft.
From the Orient Express to the Orient Express of the Air.
THE PIONEERS OF AVIATION
Perhaps it was our spirit of adventure, inborn ingenuity, or maybe our remoteness from Western Europe that made our country fertile ground for the aviation industry. Whatever the reason, it is beyond doubt that from the very beginning of the twentieth century, Romania produced an impressive number of aviation pioneers.
The most remarkable of them were Traian Vuia, Aurel Vlaicu, Henri Coandă and Prince George Valentin Bibescu, who put Romania on the global aviation map at a very early stage.
The story that they started was taken further by the adventurous spirit of other Romanians who blazed trails elsewhere, in entrepreneurship and politics.
FROM TENSION TO COOPERATION
When the war drew to a close, the Great Powers conducted negotiations that would shape the future of the Old Continent. While many people were focused on redrawing its borders, others wanted to do away with them completely, and saw prosperity as a goal that could more easily be achieved in a united and close-knit Europe.
One of them was Nicolae Titulescu, the Romanian diplomat who played a pivotal role in the negotiations that would change the map of Romania forever. But his vision was broader, as he saw real benefit in bringing together states that had once been divided.
THE ORIENT EXPRESS OF THE AIR
At that time, the continent was connected by the well-known Orient Express, the passenger train with elegant carriages that could cross the continent in a few days.
But Nicolae Titulescu had something grander in mind. He had seen vast potential in the huge number of warplanes that had stopped being used when the hostilities ended. He was one of the first dignitaries to put forward and champion the idea of creating an airline linking Paris with Constantinople. The idea drew praise and support from General Duval, who was one of France’s representatives at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.
AIRCRAFT AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The Franco-Romanian Company had to provide the aircraft necessary to operate its flights and some of the flight crew.
After the contract was signed, two airports were built in Romania, in Băneasa and Arad-Gai. A hangar and aircraft repair workshops were built at Băneasa Airport, and a hangar was built at the airport in Arad to assist aircraft during stopovers there.
THE IDEA TAKES SHAPE
The date on which the discussions are recorded as having begun is January 1919. An initial plan was apparently drawn up by an aircraft manufacturer. Dissatisfied with it, Aristide Blank gave the plan to Count Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, a French war hero, for further consideration.
Fleurieu, who is identified as the writer of the plan to create the airline, was one of the French war heroes of WWI. He is described as one of France’s most outstanding aces, and was credited with four air victories. In a fierce dogfight with 12 aircraft, a bullet shattered his right arm, which had to be amputated.
AN AIRMAN AND
The idea of creating a transcontinental airline took shape gradually, with support from three key figures who approached it from different perspectives and for different reasons but, in time, came to see eye to eye.
The central roles in this story were played by Aristide Blank, the Romanian heir to a financial empire, and Count Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, a young airman and French war hero who was “vegetating in a vague and junior position” at the Parisian branch of the Marmorosch Blank Bank.
In his childhood, the Romanian banker’s imagination had been fired by the novels of Jules Verne. When he grew up, he had “the means necessary to fulfil his dream” of “flying fast” from Bucharest to Paris, like an arrow. He foresaw the financial potential and business opportunities of such a project, and decided to finance it.
Băneasa Airport, 1928-1930.
The other aircraft that were used included those manufactured by the Blériot aircraft company, which launched the Spads onto the market. These aircraft were in service with the company for over a decade. The company used the Spad 33, the Spad 46 and the Spad 56 on its routes. Two years after the company was founded, on 15 September 1922, the first flight from Budapest to Arad to Bucharest was made by a Spad 46 plane, and on 3 October 1922, Louis Guidon and flight engineer René Gilson unofficially opened the Bucharest-Constantinople route in a Spad 33 aircraft with the registration number F-AEFV.
During its first few years of operation, the company notched up some notable international successes, including the first commercial night flight in France between Paris and Strasbourg, which was made on 27-28 July 1923, and the first international commercial night flight, which was made from Belgrade to Bucharest on 10 September 1923. A Caudron C-61 aircraft piloted by Beauregard was used for this flight, and the navigator and radio operator was Val.
Once the aircraft had been adapted for commercial flights, it could accommodate between four and 10 passengers.
Before the first regular flights between Paris and Bucharest started running, the company’s aircraft made several test flights in order to chart out the route.
One such flight took place on 20 October 1921. On that day, two of the Franco-Romanian Company’s aircraft landed at the airport in Pipera, to a grand reception. The welcome that the two aircraft received was reported in the press of the day. Upon their arrival, they were received in lavish style.
The many contemporaries who turned out included King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie, as well as other members of the royal family. Preparations for the landing had been made in advance. Military planes distributed notices heralding the great moment around the capital city, and when the day arrived, many inhabitants of Bucharest made the trip to Pipera to witness the event, as was reported in an article in the daily newspaper Adevărul:
“After leaving Paris, the brave aviators passed through Strasbourg, Prague, Budapest and Belgrade. […]. The roads leading to Pipera – Șoseaua Colentina and Șoseaua Kiseleff – were inadequate for the hundreds of vehicles that headed to Băneasa.
Sardat buses and other buses were packed, and thousands of people who were unable to get onto one were left behind at Brătianu Square. On both sides of the road, cyclists and local residents headed in small groups to the aerodrome.”
The writer of the press article concluded: “Yesterday was a celebration of French and Romanian aviation which will not be forgotten”.
Illustration of a flight over (suggestion: The Iron Gates) Cazanele Dunării, the point at which travellers crossed into Romania on the route from Belgrade to Bucharest.
THE WORLD’S FIRST TRANSCONTINENTAL AIRLINE
Two years after the CFRNA was founded, on 15 September 1922, the first flight from Budapest to Arad to Bucharest was made in a Spad 46 plane, and on 3 October 1922, Louis Guidon and flight engineer René Gilson unofficially opened the Bucharest-Constantinople route in a Spad 33 aircraft with the registration number F-AEFV. The official opening took place on 15 October 1922. In the same year, on 12 November 1922, the world’s first transcontinental route was inaugurated: Paris-Strasbourg-Prague-Vienna-Budapest-Belgrade-Bucharest-Constantinople.
A journey from Paris to Bucharest took 22 hours, which was almost three times faster than the journey on the Orient Express. For the first time, the elites of the day forsook their elegant and spacious carriages in favour of compact aircraft cabins out of a desire to shorten the journey time. The whole of Europe was closer together than it had ever been.
But to cater to all of the demands and refined tastes of the period, the first airport lounges were created. They became a cosmopolitan environment where businesspeople, diplomats or explorers of the times hobnobbed during stopovers on the Orient Arrow.
“The commercial aeroplane shrinks continents and brings nations closer together.” An advert claiming that air travel made Bucharest effectively as close to Paris as Nice.
The first such flight was successfully made by the Orient Arrow in July 1923 in France, and shortly afterwards, this technology was introduced in Romania. The first international commercial night flight was thus made on 10 September 1923, from Belgrade to Bucharest.
Ten acetylene beacons were erected in Romania for the purpose between Turnu Severin and Băneasa Airport, in Balaci, Teleorman and Piatra, Olt.
In 1930, the Romanian state created a company called Romanian Airlines operated by the State, which merged in 1937 with the Romanian Air Transport Public Limited Company to form Romanian Airlines Operated by the State. The company’s name was later changed to TARS, and in 1954, TAROM was established.
On 1 January 1925, the Franco-Romanian Air Transport Company expanded its resource base and infrastructure and was renamed the International Air Transport Company (CIDNA). Later, in 1933, following talks with the French aviation minister, CIDNA, Air Orient, Air Union and the Société Générale des Transports Aériens formed the Société Centrale pour l'Exploitation de Lignes Aériennes (SCELA). But soon after that, in August 1933, the four companies merged along with Aéropostale to form a new company which was christened Air France.
FROM THE CFRNA TO THE CIDNA, AND THEN
AIR FRANCE AND TAROM
TRIBUTE TO AN ADVENTURE
Now, 100 years after the signing of the agreement that laid the foundations of the Franco-Romanian Air Transport Company, Albini Prassa is celebrating this extraordinary adventure by rediscovering and telling its story and paying tribute to it by launching the limited-edition Tissot Heritage Navigator “Orient Arrow” watch, which is inspired by the spirit of adventure and exploration inherent in this piece of history – its first watch featuring Bucharest on the dial, representing the GMT+2 time zone, along with Paris and Istanbul.
The watch boasts a classic design and a chronometer certificate, and as well as the traditional method of displaying hours, minutes and seconds, it offers a function which will be greatly appreciated by travel enthusiasts: it tells the time in the world’s big cities in all 24 terrestrial time zones simultaneously.
The limited edition is made up of individually numbered watches, and only 444 timepieces are available, representing the 444 kilometres between Bucharest and San Stefano (the airport in Istanbul at that time) and Pančevo in Serbia. The watch comes in a special collector’s box together with a spare strap, a travel case and a book telling the whole story, unearthed with help from the historian Dumitru Lăcătușu at the Historical Consulting Centre and Ion Schiau – a watchmaking, history and aviation afficionado – and written and presented to the public on the occasion of the Orient Arrow centenary.
A story brought to light and honoured by Albini Prassa, official retailer of Tissot in Romania.
Photographs of some of the aircraft used at that time.
AS A MEANS OF WARFARE
During the First World War, although aviation was still in its infancy, the Great Powers on both sides began to use this new invention as a destructive force. Romania was no exception, and after it entered the First World War in 1916, the Romanian Air Forces used their know-how to build warplanes and train the pilots who would go on to fight on various fronts.
It is estimated that over 200,000 warplanes were built worldwide during the war. At that time, aircraft were primarily a weapon of war and not the means of bringing together countries, and later continents, that they would subsequently become.
THE CFRNA IS BORN
After the idea of creating an airline had been explored and discussed for about a year, the articles of association of the Franco-Romanian Air Transport Company (CFRNA) were signed at the headquarters of the Marmorosch Blank Bank in Paris on 23 April 1920.
Aristide Blank and Count Pierre Claret de Fleurieu were joined by Albert Louis Deullin, a French veteran who became the company’s chief pilot, and Ion Bastaki, a Romanian who served as the company’s first chief executive.
Nicolae Titulescu continued to lend diplomatic support to the company’s development, as did his French counterpart, General Duval, who even served as the company’s chief executive at one point.
One of the first aircraft to enter service with the company was the Salmson 2A2. During the war, it was used by the French and the English as a reconnaissance aircraft, and it was a two-seater. It was turned into a commercial aircraft by adding two seats in the navigator’s position.
Another aircraft that was used during the early years was the Potez SEA 4, which was built by Henry Potez and used by the French during the war, and was superior to the Salmson 2A2. From that point on, Potez became one of the company’s main suppliers. Over the following years, he also manufactured a first airliner, the Potez VII, and then the Potez IX. Of the 30 Potez IX aircraft that were built, 29 went into service with the company over the years, and the last one was offered to the King of Spain for his personal use. One of those planes, piloted by Lionel de Marmier, was named the “QUEEN MARIE”. This aircraft, which made its debut in 1920, had a capacity of four seats, a cruising speed of 160 km/h, and an endurance of five hours.
With thanks to
Dan-Cătălin Buzdugan - ceasuripentruromania.ro
Alexandra Chiliman Juvara
Xavier Cotton - passionpourlaviation.fr
Jean-Pierre Dussurget - Revue Icare
Charlie de la Royère - Brussels Air Museum
Patricia Henrion - Librairie Aviation Brussels
Musée Air France
ETH Bibliothek Zürich
Creative team – Minthical
Project initiated by: Albini Prassa Ion Schiau
With assistance from
Dumitru Lacatușu - Centrul de Consultanță Istorică
Pioneers of the Orient Arrow
Pierre Claret de Fleurieu
Général Maurice Duval
Albert Louis Deullin
Lionel de Marmier
Av. Ioan Peneș
Av. Toma Aldea
Av. Max Manolescu
Ghiță C. Dumitru
OF THE ORIENT ARROW
THE FIRST COMMERCIAL NIGHT FLIGHT
An extraordinary fact that we tend to overlook is that at that time, the flight instruments that aircraft had were very limited, and navigation systems were virtually non-existent. For that reason, most flights were made during the daytime, and navigation was performed with the aid of a compass, features in the landscape and other visual clues along the route, by skilled navigators. A flight from one location to another was a real adventure for everyone involved, pilots and passengers alike.
So that flight schedules could be expanded, guidance lighting systems were developed to make navigation possible at night.
A project of Albini Prassa, official distributor of Tissot in Romania
The young war hero’s ambition was to create an airline that would link Paris with Bucharest. Despite all of the difficulties he noted while researching the plan – the lack of equipment and aircraft maintenance bases – Count Pierre Claret de Fleurieu concluded that such a plan was feasible. The prerequisites he identified were that contracts would have to be signed with the countries that the airline would pass across so that it could obtain the right to fly through their airspace and the right to make stopovers, and that at least 3 million francs of capital would have to be put up. Later, Fleurieu took personal charge of recruiting the future pilots from among the ranks of his former comrades-in-arms from the French air force.
Albini Prassa | firstname.lastname@example.org | Bucharest, Romania
Historical research and documentation
In memory of the aviator
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