There are around 100,000 flights that take to the skies every single day. It’s wild to think that within around a century, airplanes went from being a wild new invention to essentially sky buses that could take us across the world in a matter of hours. Very few fields of technology advanced quite as quickly as flight, the history isn’t all that long, but it is fascinating.
While there are some well-documented aspects of flight history, there is also a lot that most people don’t know about. Let’s take a look at some of the more surprising facts about the history of flight and how they shaped aviation as we know it today.
The First Commercial Airline Was Short (and Short-Lived)
The first commercial airline in world history might not have originated where you thought, didn’t last as long as you thought, and had a shorter path than you thought. That line is the SPT Airboat Line, and you can probably guess all of the destinations when you hear the full name: St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. What was (then) a 20-hour drive by car in 1914 was shortened to just 90 minutes via the SPT Airboat Line.
P.E. Fansler enlisted aviator and manufacturer Thomas W. Benoist to help build and start the fleet that had a grand total of two aircraft. The company opened for business on January 1, 1914, but it didn’t last for long. The company closed on May 5, 1914, but not before more than 1,200 people made their way from St. Petersburg to Tampa (or vice-versa) over the course of 172 flights.
Leaving the Country
There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through to get from one country to another, especially when it comes to air travel. Even then, it took five years to work out the schematics of the first commercial flight that would cross country borders. On August 25, 1919, the first international flight took place with service from London to Paris.
The flight operated by Air Transport & Travel (now British Airways) was a daily trip both ways. Of course, international flights would change dramatically over the following decades. At the height of international travel, there were nearly 3 billion passengers in a single year.
Attendance Was Light For The First Flight
When you think about monumental moments in human history, one of the first that comes to mind is the Wright Flyer making the 120-foot trip in Kittyhawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. That 12-second flight was just the start of what humans could accomplish with aviation, but you would think that the crowd for something like that would be huge, even if it was just a 12-second flight.
However, there were only 10 people believed to have been there outside of the Wright Brothers. It’s unclear who those people were or if they were just simply walking by and wanted to see what the brothers were up to. Either way, the first flight that would help launch an industry that has taken hundreds of millions around the world was seen by just 10 people.
The Busiest Airline Route
If you think about the most frequently flown routes in the world, you might think of something like New York City-Los Angeles, Beijing-Shanghai, or something along those lines. Instead, the busiest route in the world belongs to two cities that are in the same country, and that country is rather small. Jeju International Airport on the southern island of South Korea is the second largest airport in the country.
The largest, of course, is Seoul Gimpo. More than 1 million people make the trip between the two airports each month, with Sapporo and Tokyo coming in second place. The main reason, of course, is that Jeju Island is a massive hub for South Korean business, and the fastest (and cheapest) way to get there is to fly from Seoul.
The New Safety Standard
At the start of commercial aviation, the number of fatalities and plane crashes was through the roof. You could expect more than 4,000 fatalities and over 600 crashes, but those days are long gone. The 1960s saw a huge drop, but things started creeping back up in the 1970s. New regulations were put into place around the start of the 1980s, and airplanes have only gotten safer with every passing year.
It was only a matter of time before the world saw the amount of airplane-related fatalities drop below 400. In 2017, it finally happened, with only 399 recorded deaths. There were also 101 reported incidents, which meant it was nearly the first year with under 100. The first time there were under 100 air incidents came in 2020, but that has an asterisk due to the stoppage of air travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.