Magazine publishing has taken a major hit in the internet age and with the expansion of aviation photo and news sites (like airliners.net, jetphotos.net, CAPA, and anna.aero) there is plenty of strong online news and analysis. Even Flight International has heavily migrated online nowadays as FlightGlobal. Helpfully they have their mag back catalogue on line too.
Before the web it used to be the case that there were lots of aviation, and even airline friendly, titles on the shelf but nowadays about the only fully civil survivors are Airliner World (and its subsidiary titles) and Airways.
Airliner World is currently the king (at least outside the USA) but was actually quite a latecomer, not publishing its first issue until June 1999. It has always been more lightweight than its predecessors, especially with puff pieces around the airlines themselves. For a while it was famously the kiss of death for start-up airlines. You could guarantee there’d be an article about the airline one month, saying how bright the future was, and then the next month the carrier would go bankrupt. Even so the mag has had an admirable roll call of authors published in it (including myself) and produced many a fine issue.
Don’t get me wrong I like both titles but they do struggle to compare to some of the magazines from the glory days of aviation mags, which I tend to think of as the 1990s and early 2000s, before the internet really hit, but when colour photos were cheap.
I'll start this series by looking at ‘The World’s Airline Magazine’ - Airliners.
Airliners, published by the World Transport Press Inc in the USA, was probably the best and most informative civil aviation magazine for over a decade. It didn’t focus on current news so much (in fact initially it had a sister publication Airliners Monthly News that did that). Instead it was all about the experience of working in the aviation industry and the history of airlines and aircraft. The focus initially was mainly towards US airlines but gradually it spread globally.
The first issue was published in Spring 1988 and until 1994 it was a quarterly offering. The articles were text heavy and detailed, often by heavyweights of the aviation publishing scene such as George Cearley, Jon Proctor and R.E.G Davies. In fact, the work was of the sort of quality you’d usually find in books not magazines. As well as the in-depth articles there were also editorials, like Flightlines, which talked of aspects of working in the industry. You could tell from the letters page that many of the readers worked for airlines.
Starting in January 1994 with issue Vol 7, No 1 (i.e. issue 25) the magazine went bi-monthly, for 6 issues a year rather than four. By then most of the images were in colour, if they could be. It was during 1994 that the magazine’s first editor, John Wegg, would depart to form his own title, which became Airways.
The magazine went through a selection of editors, including Bryant Pettit, Nick Veronico, Jon Proctor and David Kaufman but the overall quality of the issues remained very high.
From issue 100 (July/August 2006) the publishers became Airlines Publications LLC, run by Robert Christensen, with Jay Selman as the editor. The magazine had been slow to transfer to print media and seems to have only really gotten a website in 2006 - www.airliners.tv
In the next few years the quality of the magazine began to suffer. This became more pronounced into 2008/2009. The articles were less enthusiast oriented and more the sort of CEO Interview puff-pieces. Presumably this decline in quality was partly driven by the decline of retails sales, although it is hard to say which caused which.
The last issue I own is from Jan/Feb 2009 but the magazine ran under its original name until at least December 2010, when a double issue was run (125/126 – a sure sign of trouble). The last editor was the publisher Robert Christensen and he announced plans to become more interactive and online in 2010 - you can still find the remnants of a twitter feed up to 2014. The magazine itself was renamed 'Airliners and Airports' and carried on into 2012 seemingly. The last issue I can find an image of was issue 131 in December 2011.
You can see in the last issue above how far away from its original topics it had wandered. Articles on Virgin America's IFE, Kellstrom Industries and transporting flowers hardly get me excited!
Despite its end years Airliners is still a wonderful source of great detailed information and I regularly use the information in my back-issues to help flesh out details in my aviation history pieces. For well over a decade it truly was ‘The World’s Airline Magazine’ as its byline stated.
18/10/2019 08:23:21 pm
A fascinating piece Richard. I have many, many issues of 'Airliners' stored in my shed. I wrote an article for the magazine some years ago covering the launch and operations of Dakota National Air, an Australian DC3/C47 specialist charter airline. Since then I've written a couple of pieces for 'Airways'. I'm looking forward to your continued exploration of these very important publications
23/12/2019 08:11:19 pm
Indeed a very good resume, mirroring my own impressions. I read these old magazines from time to time again, concenterating on articles about airliners. I have the complete collection, and, of course, the complete collection of Airways and Airliner World too
19/9/2020 01:54:16 pm
Richard - stumbled on your website trying to look for additional issues of an early 1970's airliner magazine titled "AIRLINES All About the Airlines"....no luck there (if you have any info - most appreciated).
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I'm Richard Stretton, an aviation enthusiast and major collector of 400 scale model aircraft. This blog discusses ongoing events in the world of 400 scale.
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