The outbreak of World War II interrupted commercial air service, but by 1947 all the basic technology essential to contemporary aviation had been developed: jet propulsion, streamlining, radar, and metallurgy. Perhaps the greatest example of this transition from military technology to commercial applications is the Boeing Company, a minor military contractor which became the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world. Commercial jet transportation began in 1952, when the British Overseas Airways Comet first flew from London to Johannesburg. Though this service was short-lived, by 1960 several commercial jet aircraft were in service; today virtually all commercial air routes are flown by jet or turboprop aircraft. The latest significant development in aviation has been the introduction of fly-by-wire control systems, which rely on computers and electronics rather than cables to operate aircraft control surfaces.
The result has been the explosive growth of commercial aviation, from jumbo and superjumbo jetliners to overnight package services, while general aviation has lagged behind. This growth has not been without some major problems. Jet aircraft use more fuel and require longer runways and more durable construction materials, and their sheer numbers create special problems for air-traffic control. In addition, the takeoff and landing of jet aircraft over populated areas create locally dangerous levels of noise pollution.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.