Clio Logo
Hidden among the trees in Florida, a monument was erected in memory of the first scheduled commercial airline. Otherwise known as the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, it was launched in January 1914 by Percival Elliot Fansler, with the help of Antony Jannus and Thomas W. Benoist. The airline was short-lived, lasting only three months. At the end of the three-month contract, a total of 1,204 passengers had been transported by this airline. Also, a similar plaque can be found in the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

  • New Year's Day, 1914-Opening of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. Flying at an altitude of 50 feet, the flight took twenty-three minutes to cross the bay.
  • Visitors to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport can view a replica of Benoist's biplane seaboat.
  • Jannus, former Mayor Pheil and the Benoist XIV take flight.
  • On the water before taking off.
  • After walking past some trees, you can find this two sided monument.
Percival Ellios (P. E.) Fansler was intrigued by speedboat racing, and he became interested in flying as a way of accomplishing higher, faster speeds. In 1912, P.E. was working at Kahlenberg Brothers, a manufacturer for diesel boat engines, when he heard about a flying boat piloted by Antony Jannus. The flying boat accomplished record-breaking distances, and Fansler soon became intrigued with the idea of flying. Antony Jannus was a pilot and instructor for the Benoist Air Craft Company of St. Louis. The company had been started in 1908 by a man named Thomas W. Benoist. This company was responsible for many "firsts" in Aviation History, for example, the first successful parachute jump was piloted by Jannus.

Fansler was intrigued by the Benoist Air Craft Company, so in 1913, he contacted them with the possibility of buying an aircraft. The enthusiasm heated up between the young men, so they exchanged several letters between each other. They talked about a possible partnership, and eventually, Benoist agreed to build and furnish two boats for Fansler. Fansler, as a former sales representative, was familiar with Florida, and he concluded that an airline would be most effective and be operated between St. Petersburg and Tampa. At the time, St. Petersburg had a population of 8,000, and Tampa was the nearest place to buy goods. 

On December 4, 1913, the airline was officially organized into the "St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line". The actual operation for the line began January 1, 1914. A crowd of almost 3,000 assembled at 9:30 a.m. to watch the opening of the airline. The first ticket was auctioned off for 400 dollars to Mayor A.C. Phiel. The Mayor was escorted by Jannus, and they were greeted by a crowd waiting for them in Tampa. After this, tickets were sold for 5 dollars for one-way flights, and 10 dollars for round trips.

Not only was this the first commercial airline for passengers, but it was also the first commercial flight to fly goods. On January 13, 1914, a butcher asked Fansler to fly a 50 lbs piece of meat, and Fansler agreed. The airline was short-lived, however, because when tourism ended in March, the airline was discontinued. Nevertheless, this airline was a major milestone in aviation history.

Provenzo, Eugene F. The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. Edition 1. Vol. 58. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 1979. 

Sheffield, Glenn. The World's First Scheduled Airline Historical Marker. Historical Marker. December 08, 2011. Accessed October 01, 2018.