The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line (St. Petersburg, Florida) was the first scheduled airline in the world using a fixed-winged aircraft. The airline provided schedule airline service between St. Petersburg, Florida and neighboring Tampa. The service commenced on January 1, 1914.
According to Wikipedia, visionary P.T. Fansler brought in Thomas W. Benoist to start an airline service using his new airboats to create an airline service. Even though the two cities share the same Tampa Bay with causeways criss-crossing the bay today, in 1913 the two growing cities were a full day apart due to the circuitous land passage around the bay.
On January 1, 1914 the SPT Airboat Line became the world’s first scheduled winged airline service. That same day, Antony H. Jannus piloted the airline’s Benoist Type XIV on its first flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa. Due to widespread media coverage by the St. Petersburg Times, there were reportedly over 3,000 spectators at a parade accompanied by an Italian band at the departure point. An auction was then conducted for the first round-trip ticket. It was won with a final bid of $400 by the former mayor of St. Petersburg, Abram C. Pheil. Pheil boarded the wooden, open-air craft for the 23-minute flight that rarely exceeded an altitude of 5 feet (1.5 m) above the waters of Tampa Bay.
On January 1, 2014 as part of the 100th Anniversary celebrations, a website (www.flying100years.com) will be launched on January 1, 2014 to host the centennial celebration. Along with historical and economic reference materials, the website will also be an interactive information hub depicting the value that commercial aviation provides from personal, economic and other perspectives.
The sponsors of Flight 2014 were planning to re-enact the first commercial airline passenger flight using a replica of the original Benoist airboat. Pilot and aircraft constructor Kermit Weeks was planning to take off from St Petersburg, Florida and fly across the bay to downtown Tampa at 10:00 am (1000) US Eastern Standard Time on January 1, 2014, re-tracing the exact path taken by Jannus and Pheil 100 years ago.
However the replica of the Benoist airboat proved problematic for Kermit Weeks. On trials in December 2013 the recreation was unable to generate enough horsepower to take off from a lake underscoring the significance of the original feat 100 years ago. The replica will be on display at St. Petersburg. Instead Kermit Weeks will fly another historic aircraft across the bay on January 1, 2014 to celebrate the historic flight.
Read the full story of the problems of recreating a flyable replica from the Tampa Bay Times: CLICK HERE
The pioneer airline was also the first airline failure, especially in the small airline graveyard of Florida. The airline continued to operate until May 5, 1914. In total, the airline flew over 7,000 miles, conducted 172 flights and carried 1,205 passengers according to Wikipedia citing sources.
See original photos of the opening day on January 1, 1914: CLICK HERE
More on Tony Jannus from Tampapix.com: CLICK HERE
Above: The original airline schedule, the first airline schedule in the world.