SPT Airboat Line
||1 January 1914
||St. Petersburg, Tampa
||Thomas W. Benoist
The Benoist XIV
being launched into Tampa Bay by the SPT Airboat Line
The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line (SPT Airboat Line) was the first scheduled airline using a winged aircraft. The airline provided service between St. Petersburg, Florida and neighboring Tampa.
P.T. Fansler brought in Thomas W. Benoist to start a service using his new airboats to create a service to connect the two cities that were a day's travel apart in 1913. A 3 month contract was signed with the St.Petersburg board of trade on the 10th anniversary of the Kitty Hawk flight on 17 December 1913, subsidizing 50% of the costs for starting the airline. The hangars promised for the airline were not completed, and the freight train holding the green and yellow "Lark of Duluth" was unaccounted for several days leading up to the launch date.
On January 1, 1914 the SPT Airboat Line incorporated into the world's first scheduled winged airline service. That same day, Antony H. Jannus piloted the airline's Benoist Type XIV on its maiden 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 then boarded the wooden, open-air craft for the 22-minute flight that rarely exceeded an altitude of 5 feet above the water of Tampa Bay. Two additional two passenger Benoist air boats were added to the fleet soon after. Ticket prices were $10 per flight. The first air-cargo was a picture of the first flight taken the previous day delivered to St. Petersburg. During operation the federal government decided that the vehicle and pilot should be licensed while performing commerce. Jannus applied for and evenutally become the first federally licensed pilot in the United States. The airline continued to make flights until May 5, 1914, five weeks after contract termination. From start to finish, the airline covered over 7,000 miles, 172 flights, and 1,205 passengers.
A Benoist XIV flying boat over Tampa Bay in 1914.
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