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Tony Jannus

Tampa Bay first in commercial air flight

On New Year’s Day in 1914, just ten years after the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk, a single-engine biplane lifted off the water near St. Petersburg and headed northeast under the bright Florida sun across Tampa Bay. Twenty-three minutes and 21 miles later, pilot Tony Jannus and his first passenger, Mayor Abe Pheil of St. Petersburg, landed the Benoist “flying boat” in Tampa.

It was the first flight of the world’s first scheduled commercial airline, called the “St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line.”  One way fare was $5.00 and every seat was a window seat.

Also in 1914, Jannus and his brother, Roger Jannus, furthered their passion for aviation and opened their own firm, “Jannus Brothers, Aviation”. It consisted of pilots, airplane design and construction or “anything air-propelled specializing in flying boats and airplanes.

Tony Jannus’ legacy is now evident in the award that bears his name. In 1964, the Tampa and St. Petersburg Chambers of Commerce established the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society in honor of Tony Jannus.  The Society presents an award annually for outstanding achievement in advancing civil aviation.  Some of those receiving the award include Frederick W. Smith, CEO of FedEX, Maj. Gen. Charles E, Yeager, astronaut Frank Borman, inventor William Powell Lear, and Sir Frank Whittle, Developer of the Jet Engine.  This year’s ward will be received by Frederico Fleury Curado, President & CEO of Embraer, S. A.

The Tony Jannus Society is seeking to obtain a postage stamp commemorating the centennial of the World’s First Airline and its pioneer pilot Tony Jannus.  An on-line petition supporting the stamp may be accessed at tonyjannus.org.  The mayors of St. Petersburg and Tampa are the Honorary Co-Chairs of the centennial celebrations.

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