100 years of commercial aviation


January 1 this year marked the centenary of commercial aviation with a re-enactment of the first ever commercial flight by the St Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line across Tampa Bay in Florida.

The pioneers – Percival Fransler, who organised funding for the airboat venture, pilot Tony Jannus who flew Thomas Benoist’s airboat on the 23 minute flight and the then St Petersburg mayor, Abram Pheil, who paid $400 at auction for his seat on the aircraft – are revered for the first steps they took in creating what is today a multi-trillion dollar industry.

From those humble beginnings the international aviation sector has grown to where last year it passed the three billion mark in passengers last year for the first time ever. Some 50 million tons of cargo, with a value of about $6,4 trillion, are transported by air each year.

Aviation internationally supports at least 57 million jobs and generates $2,2 trillion in economic activity. If translated into the growth domestic product (GDP) of countries it would place commercial aviation in 19th position in the world.

This year indications are the global airline industry will post a turnover of $743 billion with an average industry net profit margin of 2,6%.
“Over the last century, commercial aviation has transformed the world in ways unimaginable in 1914. The first flight provided a short-cut across Tampa Bay. Today the aviation industry reunites loved ones, connects cultures, expands minds, opens markets, and fosters development. Aviation provides people around the globe with the freedom to make connections that can change their lives and the world,” said Tony Tyler, chief executive and director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
“Aviation is a force for good. And the potential of commercial flight to keep changing the world for the better is almost unlimited. Aviation has always been a team effort. Growing and sustainably spreading the benefits of connectivity will require the industry, governments, regulators and local communities keep true to the ‘all-in-it-together’ ethos that was the bedrock of that pioneering first flight. And we should be guided by the long-term interests of all whose lives are positively transformed by commercial aviation every day. A hundred years is something worth celebrating. And we look forward to creating an equally remarkable legacy for commercial aviation’s second century,” he said.

IATA research is forecasting that around half the world’s population will fly during the course of this year with an overall prediction of 3,3 billion passengers flying globally.

As further indicators of just how great a role commercial aviation plays in the international economy the Association points out that 52 aircraft take off every minute. In the same timeframe 5 700 passengers will board aircraft somewhere in the world and more than $12 million worth of cargo is delivered.

Sixty seconds in today’s world also sees the global international aircraft fleet log over 70 000km.