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Airmail (or air mail) is a mail transport service branded and sold on the basis of being airborne. Airmail items typically arrive more quickly than surface mail, and usually cost more to send. Airmail may be the only option for sending mail to some destinations, such as overseas, if the mail cannot wait the time it would take to arrive by ship, sometimes weeks. The Universal Postal Union adopted comprehensive rules for airmail at its 1929 Postal Union Congress in London. Since the official language of the Universal Postal Union is French, airmail items world-wide are often marked Par avion , literally: "by airplane".
For about the first half century of its existence, transportation of mail via aircraft was usually categorized and sold as a separate service (airmail) from surface mail. Today it is often the case that mail service is categorized and sold according to transit time alone, with mode of transport (land, sea, air) being decided on the back end in dynamic intermodal combinations. Thus even "regular" mail may make part of its journey on an aircraft. Such "air-speeded" mail is different from nominal airmail in its branding, price, and priority of service.
Early airmails 
Specific instances of a letter being delivered by air long predate the introduction of Airmail as a regularly scheduled service available to the general public.
Although homing pigeons had long been used to send messages (an activity known as pigeon mail), the first mail to be carried by an air vehicle was on January 7, 1785, on a hot air balloon flight from Dover to France near Calais. It was carried by flown by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries. The letter was written by an American Loyalist William Franklin to his son William Temple Franklin who was serving in a diplomatic role in Paris with his grandfather Benjamin Franklin.
During the first aerial flight in North America by balloon on January 9, 1793, from Philadelphia to Deptford, New Jersey, Jean-Pierre Blanchard carried a personal letter from George Washington to be delivered to the owner of whatever property Blanchard happened to land on, making the flight the first delivery of air mail in the United States.
The first official air mail delivery in the United States took place on August 17, 1859, when John Wise piloted a balloon starting in Lafayette, Indiana, with a destination of New York. Weather issues forced him to land in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and the mail reached its final destination via train. In 1959, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 7 cent stamp commemorating the event.
Balloons also carried mail out of Paris and Metz during the Franco-Prussian War (1870), drifting over the heads of the Germans besieging those cities. Balloon mail was also carried on an 1877 flight in Nashville, Tennessee.
Introduction of the airplane 
The introduction of the airplane in 1903 generated immediate interest in using them for mail transport. The first "quasi-official" airmail flight was conducted by Fred Wiseman, who carried three letters between Petaluma and Santa Rosa, California, on February 17, 1911. The world's second airmail flight came the next day, when French pilot Henri Pequet carried 6,500 letters a distance of 13 km (8.1 mi) from Allahabad, to Naini, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, India, then part of the British Empire. The letters bore an official frank "First Aerial Post, U.P. Exhibition, Allahabad. 1911".
In the aftermath of the First World War, the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) and the Royal Air Force pioneered a scheduled airmail service between Folkestone, Kent and Cologne, Germany. The service operated between December 1918 and the summer of 1919, its purpose was to provide troops of the British Army stationed in Germany with a fast mail service  (see more at British Forces Post Office). Throughout the 1920s the Royal Air Force continued to develop air routes through the Middle East.
The first regularly scheduled airmail service in the United States was inaugurated on May 15, 1918, over a route between Washington, D.C., and New York City, with an intermediate stop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The United States 
In the 1920s and 1930s, the U.S. Congress used legislation (such as the Kelly Act and the McNary-Watres Act), and the U.S. Postal Service under Walter Folger Brown used air mail contract regulations, as tools to foster private-sector aviation companies (manufacturers, airlines, and conglomerates thereof) in order to encourage the development of a civil aviation system that would provide passenger airline service and cargo transport by air as widespread facets of American life, on a profitable basis—an ambitious notion at the time for a nationwide infrastructure that mostly did not yet exist. These events devolved into ethically dubious backroom deals between the government and corporations just in time for the Great Depression to create a populist backlash against such "fat cat" behavior. The resulting Air Mail scandal led to the Air Mail Act of 1934, which mandated the separation of air carriers from their equipment manufacturers, breaking up companies such as the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation.
Air mail within the United States was effectively ended as a distinct service on October 10, 1975, when all domestic intercity First Class mails began to be transported by air whenever practical and/or expeditious at the normal First Class rate. Domestic Air Mail as a separate class of service (and its rate structure) was formally eliminated by the successor to the Post Office Department, the United States Postal Service (USPS) on May 1, 1977.
In June 2006, the United States Postal Service formally trademarked Air Mail (two words with capital first letters) along with Pony Express. On May 14, 2007, Air Mail was incorporated into the classification First Class Mail International.
International services 
The first airmail service established officially by an airline occurred in Colombia, South America, in the 19th of October 1920. Scadta, the first airline of the country, flew landing river by river delivering mail in its destinations.
Australia's first airmail contract was awarded to Norman (later Sir) Brearley's Western Australian Airlines (WAA). The first airmail was carried between Geraldton and Derby in Western Australia on December 5, 1921. A memorial plaque to that effect is located at the Derby Airport. WAA commenced operations including Australia's first scheduled airline service eleven (11) months before Qantas got off the ground. [The State Reference Library — the Battye Library Perth Western Australia holds these factual records]. Distances being what they are, all international mail from Australia (other than heavier parcels) goes by air. International stamps are distinguished from internal mail stamps by a blue patch. International stamps do not pay GST of 10% unlike internal stamps which do.
The 1928 book So Disdained by Nevil Shute — a novel based on this author's deep interest in and thorough knowledge of aviation — includes a monologue by a veteran pilot, preserving the atmosphere of these pioneering times: "We used to fly on the Paris route, from Hounslow to Le Bourget and get through as best as you could. Later we moved on to Croydon. (...) We carried the much advertised Air Mails. That meant the machines had to fly whether there were passengers to be carried or not. It was left to the discretion of the pilot whether or not the flight should be cancelled in bad weather; the pilots were dead keen on flying in the most impossible conditions. Sanderson got killed this way at Douinville. And all he had in the machine was a couple of picture postcards from trippers in Paris, sent to their families as a curiosity. That was the Air Mail. No passengers or anything — just the mail".
In the same year when this was published, the famous German pilot Gunther Plüschow carried out the first air mail from Puntas Arenas to Ushuaia, in the southern part of Argentina. Later, Plüschow was killed in an air crash, his memory still honoured in Argentina.
Zeppelin mail 
The dirigibles of the 1920s and 1930s also carried airmail, known as Zeppelin mail or dirigible mail. The German Zeppelins were especially visible in this role, and many countries issued special stamps for use on Zeppelin mail.
Since stamp collecting was already a well-developed hobby by this time, collectors followed developments in airmail service closely, and went to some trouble to find out about the first flights between various destinations, and to get letters onto them. The authorities often used special cachets on the covers, and in many cases the pilot would sign them as well.
The first stamps designated specifically for airmail were issued by Italy in 1917, and used on experimental flights; they were produced by overprinting special delivery stamps. Austria also overprinted stamps for airmail in March 1918, soon followed by the first definitive stamp for airmail, issued by the United States in May 1918.
A postal service may sometimes opt to transport some regular mail by air, perhaps because other transportation is unavailable. It is usually impossible to know this by examining an envelope, and such items are not considered "airmail." Generally, airmail would take a guaranteed and scheduled flight and arrive first, while air-speeded mail would wait for a non-guaranteed and merely available flight and would arrive later than normal airmail.
A letter sent via airmail may be called an aerogramme, aerogram, air letter or simply airmail letter. However, aerogramme and aerogram may also refer to a specific kind of airmail letter which is its own envelope; see aerogram.
Some forms of airletter, such as aerogram, may forbid enclosure of other material so as to keep the weight down.
The choice to send a letter by air is indicated either by a handwritten note on the envelope, by the use of special labels called airmail etiquettes, or by the use of specially-marked envelopes. Special airmail stamps may also be available, or required; the rules vary in different countries.
Airmail stickers are coloured blue, with the words "air mail" in French, the home language. These are used to save having to write "air mail" by hand.
The study of airmail is known as aerophilately.
See also 
References and sources 
- Schiff p.377
- "Jean Pierre Blanchard: Made First U.S. Aerial Voyage in 1793". HistoryNet.com. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- "Jean Pierre François Blanchard". U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. Archived from the original on 25 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- "'Stamps Take Flight' exhibit from Postmaster General's Collection showcases world's rarest 'uncollectibles' at National Postal Museum". Press release. USPS. 2005-04-06. Archived from the original on 18 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
- Fad to Fundamental: Airmail in America http://postalmuseum.si.edu/airmail/historicplanes/early/historicplanes_early_wise.html
- History of Air Cargo and Airmail from the 18th Century by Camille Allaz, page 26.
- "British Notes of the Week Flight March 18, 1911
- Baldwin, N.C. (1960), p. 5, Fifty Years of British Air Mails, Francis J.Field Ltd.
- Wells, E. (1987), p. 86, Mailshot - A history of the Forces Postal Service, Defence Postal & Courier Services.
- Fernandez 1983, pp. 39–43, 92–97.
- The History of Postage Rates in the United States
- USPS News Release #06-043 (June 20, 2006) U.S. Postal Service Expands Licensing Program
- USPS International Mail Manual, Issue 35
- USPS - First Class Mail International
- Nevil Shute, "So Disdained", London, 1928, Ch. 1
- Fernandez, Ronald (1983), Excess profits: the rise of United Technologies, Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Addison-Wesley, ISBN 9780201104844.
- Richard McP. Cabeen, Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting (Collectors Club, 1979), pp. 207–221
- Schiff, Stacy. Benjamin Franklin and the Birth of America. Bloomsbury, 2006.
Further reading 
- Newall, Alexander S. (1990) Airmail Stamps: Fakes & Forgeries. United Kingdom: Newall Consultants. ISBN 0-904804-96-8
- UKweekly.com article on early airmail service
- British Postal Museum & Archive Information Sheet - Airmail
- The Flying Mail's Big Debt to War: America again takes front rank in the air with machines of mighty power, Popular Science monthly, February 1919, page 78, Scanned by Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=7igDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA78