The flight covered just 18 miles and took barely 20 minutes, but 100 years later its impact is being felt by billions of travelers around the globe.
When Tony Jannus piloted a Benoist bi-wing airboat on the short journey from St. Petersburg to Tampa in Florida on the first day of 1914, he was carrying one paying passenger. It was the first-ever scheduled air service and the birth of commercial aviation, an industry that now carries more than 3 billion passengers a year.
“What was impossible yesterday is an accomplishment today, while tomorrow heralds the unbelievable,” the flight’s organizer, Percival Fansler, said before takeoff, according to the Florida Aviation Historical Society.
As aviation organizations mark the centennial of Jannus’ historic flight across Tampa Bay, officials are expressing optimism about the industry’s short- and long-term future.
In March 2014, the federal Department of Transportation reported that about 826 million passengers traveled on U.S. airlines and foreign airlines serving the United States in 2013. As of January 2014, U.S. airlines employed more than 380,000 people, which represents a slight year-over-year increase, the agency reported.
According to a recent forecast by the Federal Aviation Administration, passenger traffic on U.S. airlines will reach 1.1 billion by 2034.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that global airline traffic averages 8 million passengers and 140,000 tons of cargo a day. Additionally, the aviation industry contributes about $540 billion annually to the world’s economy and helps provide employment for more than 57 million workers.
In 2014, the world’s airlines will generate $745 billion in revenue and nearly $19 million in profits, according to IATA estimates.
“Over the last century, commercial aviation has transformed the world in ways unimaginable in 1914,” the association’s chief executive officer, Tony Tyler, said in a statement.
The IATA launched a website, www.flying100years.com, to serve as the hub for the anniversary festivities. The website offers a timeline of aviation history, video interviews and a library of downloads, as well as personal perspectives of air travel. Twitter users can join the conversation at hashtag #Flying100.
The legacy of the landmark flight also is maintained by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society, which for 50 years has been presenting an annual award named for the famous aviator. Past recipients include Delta Air Lines chief executive Richard H. Anderson, legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, Virgin airlines founder Sir Richard Branson and Frank Whittle, developer of the jet engine.