Commercial Airlines

The world’s first commercial flight is attributed to Antony Habersack Jannus aka Tony Jannus, an American pilot. On January 1, 1914, Jannus operated the inaugural commercial flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. The flight covered a distance of around 21 miles and lasted approximately 23 minutes. It marked a significant milestone in aviation history, demonstrating the feasibility and potential of commercial air travel. Since then, the aviation industry has grown exponentially, with commercial flights becoming an integral part of global transportation networks.

The Birth of Commercial Aviation: The Inaugural Commercial Flight of 1914

The world of aviation has revolutionized transportation, connecting people like never before. However, the origins of commercial flights can be traced back to a groundbreaking moment that paved the way for the global air travel industry. In this article, we delve into the historical significance of the first commercial flight and shed light on the individual behind this milestone achievement.

Taking Flight: Tony Jannus and the Inaugural Commercial Flight

The distinction for the first commercial flight goes to Tony Jannus, an esteemed American pilot. On January 1, 1914, Jannus commandeered the inaugural commercial flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa in Florida. This event marked a pivotal turning point in aviation history and set in motion the future of commercial air travel.

Tony Jannus
Tony Jannus. Image Credits – Google.

The Flight’s Details and Significance

Covering a distance of approximately 21 miles, Jannus flew the Benoist XIV aircraft during the historic journey. The flight lasted for approximately 23 minutes, from takeoff to touchdown. Although the duration may seem short by today’s standards, it was a remarkable accomplishment at the time.

First Commercial Flight Take-Off
SPT Airlines’ Benoist Type XIV flying boat takes off on the first scheduled commercial passenger flight, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1 January 1914. Image Credits – State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Aboard the Benoist XIV, there was one passenger, the then-mayor of St. Petersburg, Abraham Pheil. The flight ticket for this groundbreaking journey cost $400 ($10,000 in today’s currency) through an auction with a winning bid of $400. While the passenger count and ticket price may seem modest, it symbolized the birth of a new era in transportation.

First Commercial Flight Passengers
Percival E. Fansler, Mayor Abraham C. Pheil, and Antony H. Jannus with the Benoist Type XIV flying boat Lark of Duluth, 1 January 1914. Image Credits – State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The Aircraft Details

The Benoist Type XIV, designed by Thomas W. Benoist, was a biplane with a length of 26 feet (7.925 meters). Both the upper and lower wings had a span of 44 feet (13.411 meters). When empty, the Type XIV weighed 1,250 pounds (567 kilograms).

Thomas Wesley Benoist
Thomas Wesley Benoist. Image Credits – State Historical Society of Missouri.

Jannus’ Benoist was equipped with a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, inline six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 477.129 cubic inches (7.819 liters). This Roberts Motor Company 1913 Model 6-X engine produced 66 horsepower at 1,000 r.p.m. and 75 horsepower at 1,225 r.p.m. It operated as a direct-drive engine, turning a two-bladed wooden propeller with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) in a pusher configuration. The engine measured 4 feet, 4.5 inches (1.334 meters) in length, 2 feet, 1 inch (0.635 meters) in height, and 2 feet, 0 inch (0.610 meters) in width, with a weight of 275 pounds (125 kilograms).

The aircraft boasted a maximum speed of 64 miles per hour (103 kilometers per hour) and could cover a range of 125 miles (201 kilometers).

Benoist XIV - First regularly-scheduled airline flight in 1914.
Benoist XIV – First regularly-scheduled airline flight in 1914. Image Credits – State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The Inaugural Airline Service – St. Petersburg–Tampa Airlines

St. Petersburg–Tampa (SPT) Airboat Lines was founded by Percival E. Fansler, a prominent St. Petersburg entrepreneur. An agreement was reached with the City of St. Petersburg to grant a subsidy of $2,400, payable at a rate of $40 per day, on the condition that SPT maintained a schedule of two flights per day, six days a week, for a three-month period. The cost of passenger tickets was set at $5.00 each.

St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line Timetable
St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line Timetable. Image Credits – Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Implications and Industry Evolution

Jannus’s successful commercial flight had far-reaching implications for the aviation industry. It demonstrated the potential of air travel as a viable means of transportation, opening doors to a range of possibilities.

The flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa instilled confidence in the public regarding the safety and reliability of aviation. It sparked interest and enthusiasm among investors, which played an instrumental role in fueling the growth and expansion of the commercial aviation sector.

Legacy and Continuing Progress

The pioneering efforts of Tony Jannus shaped the foundation for commercial air travel, leading to the vast network of airlines and routes we have today. His historic flight highlighted the potential of aviation to bridge distances, boost economies, and facilitate global connectivity.

Since that groundbreaking moment, the world of commercial aviation has witnessed remarkable advancements, including the development of larger, faster, and more technologically advanced aircraft. Air travel has become an integral part of modern life, connecting people across continents and cultures.


The first commercial flight, piloted by Tony Jannus on January 1, 1914, holds a significant place in history. This transformative event paved the way for the development of the commercial air travel industry, enabling people to traverse great distances with speed and efficiency. It ignited enthusiasm and interest among the public and investors, leading to the exponential growth of the aviation sector. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of individuals like Tony Jannus, air travel has become an essential component of global transportation networks, shaping the way we navigate our interconnected world.

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