Created following the advice of the government Hambling Committee in 1923 - that the main existing aircraft companies should be merged to create a company which would be strong enough to develop Britain's external air services - and offered a £1m subsidy over ten years if they merged. Imperial Airways Limited was formed in March 1924 from the British Marine Air Navigation Company Ltd (three aircraft), the Daimler Airway (five aircraft), Handley-Page Transport Ltd (three aircraft) and the Instone Air Line Ltd (two aircraft). The land operations were based at Croydon Airport.
The first commercial flight was in April 1924, when a daily London-Paris service was opened. Additional services to other European destinations were started throughout the summer. The first new airliner was commissioned by Imperial Airways in November 1924. In the first year of operation the company carried 11,395 passengers and 212,380 letters.
The extension of service to the British Empire (Empire Services) was not begun until 1927 when, with the addition of six new aircraft, a service was instituted from Cairo to Basra. but the first service from London for Karachi did not start until 1929 using newly purchased Short Calcutta flying-boats, even then the passengers were transported by train from Paris to the Mediterranean where the Short flying boats were. In February 1931 a weekly service between London and Tanganyika was started as part of the proposed route to Cape Town and in April an experimental London-Australia air mail flight took place; The mail was transferred at the Netherlands East Indies, and took 26 days in total to reach Sydney. The development of four-engined airliners boosted the range of services, in 1932 the service to Afica was extended to Cape Town.
In Australia in 1934 Imperial and Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd) formed Qantas Empire Airways Limited to extended services in South East Asia. But it was not until 1937 with the Short Empire flying boats that Imperial could offer an 'all air' service from Southampton to the Empire - to the Cape involved Southampton - Marseilles - Rome - Brindisi - Athens - Alexandria and then down the Nile to Kisumu in Kenya and onwards by land-based craft. Survey flights were also made across the Atlantic and to New Zealand. By mid-1937 Imperial had completed its thousandth service to the Empire.
The Empire Air Mail Programme began in July 1937, delivering anywhere for 1½ d./oz. By mid-1938 a hundred tons of mail had been delivered to India and a similar amount to Africa.
However, compared to other operators (Air France, KLM, Deutsche Luft Hansa) it was lagging behind in Europe and it was suggested that all European operations be handed over to British Airways Ltd (founded in 1924) which had more modern aircraft and better organization. However in November 1939 both Imperial and British Airways Ltd were merged into a new state-owned national carrier - British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).