Pierre-Georges Latécoère (1883–1943) was a pioneer of aeronautics and the founder of the aeronautical industry in Toulouse. He is an emblematic figure of the beginnings of French commercial aviation, particularly the airmail industry.
During the First World War, he started a business in aeronautics. He directed plants that made planes and opened the first airlines that operated from France to Africa and South America.
Born in Bagnères-de-Bigorre in 1883, he had a law degree and graduated from the École Centrale Paris in 1906.
As the son of Gabriel Latécoère, owner of a sawmill in Bagnères-de-Bigorre (France), he took an early interest in technology. After his studies, he modernized his father's firm, specializing in the manufacture of railway wagons.
During the First World War, the profits from government contracts allowed him to set up a large, modern factory in the Toulouse suburb of Montaudran. Before doing so, he had also produced a rush order of 600 Salmson aircraft, which the army urgently needed.
He created in 1918 the Latécoère Airlines, later known as Aéropostale, carrying mail from France to Africa and South America.
Such well-known pilots flew his planes as Mermoz and Saint-Exupéry.
Finally, he started manufacturing aircraft in his name, notably great seaplanes such as the 75-tons Latécoère 631, the largest seaplane in the world.
Pierre-Georges Latécoère was made Knight of the Legion of Honour on 30 September 1920, promoted to Officer on 10 September 1923 and Commander on 23 August 1925 at the age of 42.
Appointed Officer of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite (Morocco) on 12 March 1919, then Commander on 10 October 1922.
Appointed Officer of the Order of Leopold (Belgium) on 10 March 1921.
Received the Grande Médaille de l'Aéro-Club de France for his immense contribution to the progress of aviation.
Pierre Charles Georges Latécoère was born in 1883 in Bagnères-de-Bigorre from the marriage of Jeanne Pujol and Gabriel Latécoère.
On July 11, 1931, he married Lucienne Granel. An only son from this marriage was conceived: Pierre-Jean, who was born at the Château de Ramonville near Toulouse on June 9, 1932. Pierre-Jean, holder of licences in mathematics and chemistry, joins the Latécoère company in 1961 and follows the experience of the engineer Marcel Moine, an employee of the company from 1918 to 1975. He managed the company for more than thirty years until 1989.
Pierre-Georges took over the family business "Maison G. Latécoère" in 1906 after his father's death from cancer: carpentry and general mechanics workshops, founded in 1872.
He adds to the wood industry the manufacture of rolling stock for trams and railway equipment for Eastern Europe and the French colonies.
Although reformed during the First World War, he signed a voluntary enlistment as a gunner. After four months, he was returned to civilian life because of his status as a company director; his general felt that he would be doing more service to his country at the head of an industry than behind a gun.
He took part in the war effort and invested in two factories in Toulouse: one manufacturing shells, the other airframes from 1916. He was the first to make Toulouse an aeronautical site. In 1917, he obtained an order for 1000 Salmson aircraft and delivered 800 before the Armistice. He creates a factory and an airfield in Montaudran, near Toulouse, in the record time of 7 months. The first aircraft left the workshops on May 5, 1918, then at 6 per day.
Major industrialist, Latécoère once had a 26,000 sq. m. factory supplying the Aéropostale.
In 1918, Latécoère imagined an airline for freight and mail, linking France to Senegal via Spain and Morocco.
On December 25, 1918, he opened the airline between Toulouse and Barcelona.
In 1919, he founded the Latécoère Airlines, which became the Compagnie Générale d'Entreprises Aeronautiques, then finally Aéropostale.
In the 1920s, he realized his idea of a transatlantic airline, which gave birth to Air France in 1933.
It was at Latécoère that Mermoz, Saint-Exupéry and Guillaumet made their first steps.
In 1919, he created an airline between Toulouse and Casablanca. In 1924, the airline was extended to Dakar.
In May 1930, the transatlantic crossing was made from Dakar to Natal (Brazil) by Mermoz on a Latécoère 28-3 aircraft, “Comte de La Vaulx”. Then comes the challenge of flying over the Andes Cordillera, told by Saint-Exupéry in his novel Night Flight (Vol de Nuit, 1931).
In Montaudran, Latécoère built planes that broke world records.
On May 9, 1930, Mermoz on board the Latécoère 28 seaplane made the first airmail link from Saint Louis Natal across the South Atlantic.
He then tackled the problem of large tonnage seaplanes. The first was the Latécoère 521 “Lieutenant de Vaisseau Paris” of 42 tons.
In 1930, he created a seaplane base at Biscarosse. In 1937, he had a large seaplane manufacturing plant built in Anglet.
In 1940, the Société Industrielle d'Aviation Latécoère, created in 1922, built a new factory in Toulouse. It will produce the largest seaplane in the world, the Latécoère 631 of 75 tons.
The Latécoère 631 “Paquebot des airs” makes the line Biscarrosse-Fort-de-France from July 4, 1947, to August 1, 1948, carrying 2,000 passengers with two rotations per month.
Pierre-Jean Latécoère was born in the castle of Ramonville near Toulouse on June 9, 1932. He was the only son of Pierre-Georges Latécoère, whom he lost when he was eleven years old. Raised by his mother during the difficult period at the end of the war, he studied in Toulouse and passed a degree in mathematics and chemistry.
He joined the Latécoère company in 1961 and followed the experience of Marcel Moine, from whom he learned all about the difficult job that awaited him: company director, succeeding such a glorious father! The succession was all the more difficult as the economic environment at the time was a great challenge.
Pierre-Jean managed the company from 1961 to 1981, a pivotal period for aeronautics during which he took the company through some critical turning points such as subcontracting. In particular with the Ariane arms and the human centrifuges contracts, which enabled the company to survive and subsequently position itself in the markets of the future.
He was a leader of men, known for his empathy, charisma and ability to motivate his teams. He would go to the workshops where he would personally encourage the workers. His way of doing things made him very appreciated by everyone and especially by the employees of the Latécoère company. Among his many qualities were his great humility and modesty as well as his ability to question himself.
During times of crisis, Pierre-Jean was always looking for ways to avoid layoffs in the company. When he stepped down as president of Latécoère in 1981, he left the company in a very healthy financial position and with significant growth perspectives.
Pierre-Jean always wished to be worthy of his father’s work, whose memory lived in him every day, and from whose absence he suffered. Especially when he was a young man and would have needed his father's advice and affection.
He more than fulfilled his mission by being an outstanding business leader who contributed enormously to the success of both the Latécoère company and the Latécoère family.
Everyone agrees that without Pierre-Jean’s talent, his wisdom and the excellent strategic decisions he made when French aeronautics was going through a tough time, the Latécoère company would today probably be nothing more than a memory.