The History of Antony Habersack JannusMore familiarly known as Tony Jannus (1889-1916), was an early American pilot who piloted the first flight of the St Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line on January 1, 1914. This was the first scheduled commercial airline flight in the United States, and the first such flight anywhere in the world to use a heavier-than-air aircraft.
Born in Washington, D.C., he did his flight training at the College Park Airport in nearby Maryland in 1910. On March 1, 1912, Jannus piloted a Benoit biplane when Albert Berry made the first parachute jump from a moving airplane near St. Louis, Missouri. The next year, Jannus participated in a New York Times Derby, flying actress Julia Bruns in a Baldwin Red Devil 4,000 ft. above Staten Island for twenty minutes on October 12, 1913. The following month, he moved to St. Petersburg, Florida.
At the time, surface transportation between St. Petersburg and Tampa required a circuitous, two-hour journey by railroad. Jannus' proposal for direct, scheduled air service over Tampa Bay between the two Florida cities was enthusiastically supported by city leaders and the then-mayor of St. Petersburg, Abram C. Pheil was a passenger on the inaugural flight. At a fare of five dollars, it was the first time tickets were sold to the general public for point-to-point scheduled air travel.
Departing from a location near the downtown St. Petersburg Pier, the twenty-three minute flight traveled between St. Petersburg and Tampa, flying above Tampa Bay in Jannus' Benoist XIV flying boat biplane. The Benoist reportedly reached a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour during the flight, according to a United Press account. Other reports indicate that Jannus flew over the Bay at an altitude of fifty feet.
An operational replica of the Benoist Model 14 airplane flew across Tampa Bay in a 75th anniversary re-enactment of Tony Jannus' flight, on January 1, 1989. It is now exhibited at the St. Petersburg Museum of History at the St. Petersburg Pier, near the site of the inaugural flight.
The Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society perpetuates the memory of Tony Jannus, the first commercial airline pilot, by annually conferring the Tony Jannus Award for outstanding achievement in scheduled air transportation. Past recipients of the award are honored at the St. Petersburg Museum of History's Tony Jannus exhibit.
The birth of commercial air transportation by Tony Jannus is also commemorated by another replica of the Benoist airplane at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport's baggage claim area in the terminal.
Jannus was killed on October 12, 1916 when his plane, a Curtiss H-7 he was testing for the czar of Russia for use in World War I, had engine problems and crashed into the Black Sea. His body was never recovered.
On December 17, 2006, Tony Jannus was inducted into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, joining other honorees such as Wilbur and Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Chuck Yeager, who have shaped the aviation industry.