Chalk's International Airlines
|Parent company||Flying Boat Inc.|
|Headquarters||Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
Broward County, Florida, USA
|Key people||Rajan Nair, Owner, President & Director of Operations|
Chalk's International Airlines, formerly Chalk's Ocean Airways, was an airline with its headquarters on the grounds of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in unincorporated Broward County, Florida near Fort Lauderdale. It operated scheduled seaplane services to the Bahamas. Its main base was Miami Seaplane Base (MPB) until 2001, with a hub at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. On September 30, 2007, the United States Department of Transportation revoked the flying charter for the airline, and later that year, the airline ceased operations.
The airline was founded by Arthur "Pappy" Chalk, and started ad-hoc charter operations as the Red Arrow Flying Service in 1917. After "Pappy" Chalk served in the Army Air Service in World War I, he returned to Miami and commenced scheduled service between Miami and Bimini in the Bahamas in February 1919 as Chalk's Flying Service. Chalk's first base was a beach umbrella on the Miami shore of Biscayne Bay. In 1926 a landfill island, Watson Island, was created in Biscayne Bay close to Miami. Chalk's built an air terminal there, and operated from the island for the next 75 years.
In the early 1970s, Frakes Aviation bought the rights to the aircraft and began a conversion program, replacing the old Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radial engines with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprops. By 1985 three of Chalk's eight Grumman Mallards had been converted, with five ex-military piston engined Grumman Albatross aircraft making up the balance of the fleet.
In 1974, Resorts International purchased Chalk's Airlines, which became the primary air carrier to Paradise Island near the Bahamian capital of Nassau, where Resorts International owned and operated hotels and other resort facilities. After Resorts International constructed a runway on Paradise Island and switched to using conventional aircraft, it sold Chalk's in 1991 to United Capital Corporation, an Illinois-based investment firm.
The television show Miami Vice, a symbol of both Miami and the 1980s, featured a Chalk's seaplane in its opening credits. James Murphy was the pilot in the opening scene of Miami Vice flying all day long doing take off and landings for just the right shot. James retired from Florida West and is living in Cooper City. The music video for George Michael's Careless Whisper featured a Chalk's seaplane. In one of the final scenes of the motion picture Silence of the Lambs, Dr Frederick Chilton is seen disembarking a Chalk's aircraft in Bimini, where Hannibal Lecter is waiting to "have him for dinner". A Chalks plane also makes an appearance at the end of the movie 'After The Sunset' with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek's characters embracing as they stand next to it, (a twin engine seaplane). Chalk's fleet was as high-maintenance as it was glamorous. It was a unique carrier, its Watson Island base being the smallest port of entry in the United States. Chalk's revenues were about $7.5 million in 1986, when it carried 130,000 passengers. Most were staying at Resorts International properties, although island residents used the airline for shopping trips to Miami.
United expanded Chalk's service to Key West, Florida, and Nassau and acquired additional aircraft, but struggled financially. In 1996, United sold Chalk's to a group of investors, who operated the airline under the name Pan Am Air Bridge. In January 1998, Texas-based aircraft lease company Air Alaska purchased 70% of Pan Am Air Bridge, but following the collapse of Air Alaska, Pan Am Air Bridge filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection only a year later on January 11, 1999. James Confalone, a businessman and former Eastern Airlines pilot, purchased Chalk's out of bankruptcy for $925,000 on August 2, 1999; it had been reduced to two aircraft and only 35 staff. Confalone bought five additional Grumman Mallard seaplanes and arranged a contract to buy 14 larger Grumman G-111 seaplanes to expand the operation. On December 17, 1999, the airline was relaunched as Chalk's Ocean Airways.
In late 2001 following the September 11 attacks, Chalk's was forced to leave its longtime operations base on Watson Island due to security concerns over its proximity to the Port of Miami. Helicopter traffic had also increased around Watson Island. Operations moved to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where Chalk's already had its maintenance base.
The airline suspended operations after the crash of Chalk's Ocean Airways Flight 101 on December 19, 2005. It had planned to resume flights between Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas under its earlier name of Chalk's International Airlines on November 9, 2006, but its airworthiness certificate issued by the Bahamas had expired. It resorted to using aircraft "wet leased" from and operated by Big Sky Airlines to operate flights from Fort Lauderdale to Key West and to St. Petersburg, Florida. Chalk's added flights between Palm Beach International Airport (PBIA) and destinations in the Bahamas in late May 2007, but carried only 14 passengers through PBIA that August.
Chalk's ceased flying from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after September 3, 2007. After the final report from the Flight 101 crash investigation was released, the United States Department of Transportation revoked the airline's flying authority for scheduled service on September 30, 2007. Chalk's continued to hold its FAR 121 operating with a part 298 authority in good standing, and sought to add 60-passenger regional jets to its FAR 121 operating licence, but these efforts never came to fruition.
Chalk's had claimed to be the oldest continuously operating airline in the world, having begun operations in 1917 and scheduled flights in February 1919, and having only ceased operations for three years due to World War II, two days due to 1992's Hurricane Andrew, and eleven months due to an "at altitude tragedy" on December 19, 2005. The title of oldest continuously operating airline is now given to KLM of the Netherlands, founded later in 1919.
During 2006 the airline leased conventional Beechcraft 1900D land planes from Big Sky Airlines which were later replaced by Saab 340A and other wet leased aircraft while working with the Federal Aviation Administration to rebuild its fleet of Grumman G-73T Turbine Mallards.
As of March 2007 the Chalk's International Airlines fleet comprised:
- 4 Mallards ( 5 originally delivered but one crashed )
- 2 Saab 340A The Saabs were chartered by Chalks from Bimini Island Air.
Incidents and accidents
In 1994, Captain John Alberto and co-pilot Alan Turner drowned after their aircraft sank due to the failure of the airplane's bilge pump while they were taxiing at Key West. Captain Alberto left behind a wife and two children. Jimmy Buffett dedicated a chapter to Captain Alberto in his book A Pirate Looks At Fifty.
On December 19, 2005, Chalk's Ocean Airways Flight 101 from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini made an unscheduled stop at Watson Island, Miami. Within a minute of taking-off again, it fell into the sea near Miami Beach. Witnesses said they saw smoke billowing from the plane and the separation of its right wing as it plunged into the ocean. None of the twenty people on board – eighteen passengers and two pilots – survived. At first, only nineteen of the twenty bodies were found (by the Coast Guard and Miami Beach Ocean Rescue), but, on December 23, the twentieth was found by two Miami-Dade firefighters while fishing on their day off.
Investigators later identified cracks in the main support beam connecting the wing to the fuselage. The plane was a Grumman G-73T Turbine Mallard, registration N2969, manufactured in 1947. It was the second fatal accident for Chalk's Ocean Airways. A few months after the NTSB released its report on the crash, the airline shut down.
- Administration, Chalk's International Airlines, archived from the original on December 23, 2005, retrieved May 12, 2010
- "Directory: World Airlines", Flight International, p. 63, 2007-04-03
- Stieghorst, Tom (October 19, 2007), "Chalk's Airlines loses flight license", South Florida Sun-Sentinel, South Palm Beach County Edition, pp. 1A, 6A
- The World's Oldest International Airline, Visit Florida, retrieved May 27, 2007 Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Goodnough, Abby; Wald, Matthew L. (December 22, 2005). "Airline Grounds Fleet After Seaplane Crash". The New York Times. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
- Scott, Katherine Hutt (August 12, 1999), At Chalk's, Love Is in the Air, retrieved June 26, 2012
- Lush, Tamara (March 22, 2007), "Crash of an Icon", Miami New Times, p. 2, retrieved July 4, 2007
- Smith, Dale (July 1, 2003), "Chalk's Ocean Airways", Aviation Today, retrieved June 26, 2012
- Stieghorst, Tom (December 23, 1995), "Developer Buying Chalk's Airline", South Florida Sun-Sentinel, retrieved June 26, 2012
- Associated Press (October 29, 2006), "Chalk's airline to resume flights one year after crash that killed 20", South Florida Sun-Sentinel, p. 9B
- "Chalk's Anxious to Fly", The Bahama Journal, November 11, 2006
- Chalk's home page
- "Aircraft", Chalk's International Airlines
- Families Grieve Seaplane Crash Together, cbs4.com, December 23, 2005.
- All 20 Killed as Seaplane Crashes Off Miami Beach, The New York Times, December 20, 2005.
- Preliminary accident report, National Transportation Safety Board.
- NTSB releases photos of fatigue cracks from Monday's Chalk's Ocaean Airways crash in Miami, National Transportation Safety Board, December 22, 2005.
- Maintenance issues found at tiny airline, USA Today, June 22, 2006.
- Chalk's International Airlines (archive)