THE BIRTH OF THE AIRLINE
F ansler wrote of his idea of running a scheduled service between two points to Thomas W. Benoist, aviator and aircraft manufacturer, and the two corresponded through the summer of 1913, ultimately settling on Tampa Bay as the ideal spot for operations.
After approaching the city of Tampa and finding no one there interested in investing in an airline franchise, he ventured across the bay and approached St. Petersburg in December 1913, a city of only about 9,000 at the time. “They thought I had a mighty clever idea,” Fansler later wrote, “but they didn’t believe there was any such thing as a flying boat.”
H owever, he managed to convince them, and the city fathers backed the airline with a promise to build a hangar and a pledge of $1,200, and the Board of Trade came in with a like amount. On December 17, 1913, Tom Benoist; P.E. Fansler; and L.A. Whitney, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce; signed a contract, and the world’s first airline company was born – ten years to the day from the Wright Brothers’ historic first flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
The day after the contract signing, the St. Petersburg Times reported that “a fleet of hydro-aeroplanes” would make regular trips between St. Petersburg and Tampa, and predicted that the service would “prove to be of great benefit to the city.” And the Jacksonville Metropolis editorialized that “St. Petersburg is now a city of pelicans, porpoises and planes.”
"Travel between Tampa and St. Petersburg took close to two hours by steamboat and more than 12 hours by train. With Benoist’s Flying Boat travel took only 23 minutes."
Separated by 19 miles of water, travel between Tampa and St. Petersburg took close to two hours by steamboat and more than 12 hours by train. In late 1914, the Seaboard Railway made it to St. Petersburg and cut the travel time by train to a little over nine hours. Travel by automobile through rutted dirt roads took nearly a full day. And the travel between these two fine cities by Benoist’s Flying Boat via the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line?
Only 23 minutes.
On January 1, 1914, Tony Jannus took off from St. Petersburg across Tampa Bay on the first scheduled commercial flight, forever changing world history and the way mankind would travel. In accordance with its contract with the city, the airline maintained two scheduled flights a day between St. Petersburg and Tampa, six days a week, from January 1 through March – tourist season at the time. During its operation, the airline lost only seven-and-a-half days of flights, three-and-a-half due to mechanical difficulty, and four as a result of bad weather.