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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our fifth calendar year
    PCR #215  (Vol. 5, No. 19)  This edition is for the week of May 3--9, 2004.

Florida’s Commuter Airlines from the 1960’s to the 1980’s: Part Two
 by Will Moriaty
"Van Helsing"
 by Mike Smith
Long Hot Summer Movie Doldrums
 by Andy Lalino
Wacko Jacko Went Down To Texas....Surprise Embargo on Sushi....The Asscroft and Dumbsfield Dept.
 by Vinnie Blesi
And Now I'm Steppin' Into The Twilight Zone....The Monsters Are Here!
 by Matt Drinnenberg
Knew I Wasn't Hallucinating....The Mouse That Gagged....Wish I Was A Jetson....This Game Has Lost Its Balls....Meet The Beatles, Part 15
 by Mike Smith
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Florida’s Commuter Airlines from the 1960s to the 1980s: Part Two -- Florida Airlines and Air Sunshine

The Five-Dollar Tour
My one and only flight aboard a Douglas DC-3 was in the summer of 1974 when Greg Van Stavern and I participated in a tour of the Tampa Bay area compliments of Florida Airlines.

The commuter carrier was running $5.00 tours of the Bay area out of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International airport (PIE), which was unique in a way since the carrier did not regularly schedule flights from that airport, but did serve Tampa International Airport (TPA) at that time. You pretty much can bet that due to the growing litigious society and the more recent over-reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that tours of that type are basically dead and gone (the last of which I recall was offered in 1983 by former Florida commuter carrier Dolphin Airways).

I remember how strange it was upon boarding the Three as you had to walk at a slant due to the angled aisle which was a physical response to the fixed landing wheel be located beneath the aircraft’s tail. The entire time that Greg and I were on this journey I never really got a sensation of real speed. The pilot simply directed the nose down Runway 17, the engines began to gain in horsepower, the tail section began to rise and slowly we lifted off of terra firma, watching the Showboat Dinner Theater and Ulmerton Road gradually pass below us.

I also remember how blown away I was when I walked by the wing adjacent to the passenger door and noticed that the majority of the wing was made of canvas! What a wonderful trip and memory. It wouldn’t have been possible without Florida Airlines and its white and red Douglas DC-3!

Florida Airlines
By the account of author Bill Odell (http://www.bluegrassairlines.com/bgas/flaair.htm), Florida Airlines was born in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Initially known as Florida Air Taxi, it provided service to and from Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa to Albert Whitted Field in St. Petersburg. Although by today’s standards this short of a hop would not even be considered a viable revenue provider, it literally took the better part of a day to travel between these two cities by car until the causeways and improved roads were developed. As late as the 1960’s, Florida Air Taxi used three Piper Apaches, two V-tailed Beechcraft Bonanzas and three Beechcraft B-18’s.

1960’s Expansion
By the second half of the 1960’s, Florida Air Taxi expanded their route system to Ocala and Gainesville to the north and Ft. Myers to the south.

Florida air taxi soon found itself working on behalf of National Airlines flying back-up flights to Ft. Myers when National was overbooked to that destination. A strike in 1969 found Florida Air Taxi, now renamed Florida Airlines providing its service between Tampa and Ft. Myers in such density that larger equipment was required so Douglas DC-3s were added to the fleet. Business and schedules skyrocketed for the Tampa based carrier, and shortly afterward it moved its base of operation to the Sarasota-Bradenton airport, as well as adding it to its route system roster.

Major Acquisitions
Seven DC-3s were now flying routes that included Tampa to Sarasota-Bradenton, Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte, Ft. Myers and Miami, as well as Jacksonville to Gainesville, Ocala and Tampa. By 1975 Florida airlines acquired Florida and Bahamian commuter Shawnee Airlines, and as a result, absorbed routes to Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Freeport and Nassau. It also ended up being an operator of their Martin 404 fleet.

Not long after that, Florida Airlines also purchased Air South, which also utilized the Martin 404 in markets such as St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, Atlanta and Hilton Head, South Carolina. With the addition of these new carriers, Florida Airlines brightened up the livery of its aircraft utilizing a yellow, orange and red flared cheat line on white fuselages for many of its aircraft. By 1976, this conglomeration of aircraft and routes was simply referred to as “Florida Airlines -- The Connection”.

I remember that the airline picked up so much passenger traffic from a fall 1975 National Airlines strike that its DC-3s were parked wing tip to wing tip at Jacksonville International and Tampa International Airports.

In addition to being the largest commuter airline in Florida in 1976, Florida Airlines also provided the only service from the United States to Cuba flying from Miami to Varadero.

With deregulation in 1978, Florida Airlines began losing revenue and not long afterwards Southern International Airlines, which had a Sarasota-Miami-Nassau route, purchased four of its remaining Martin 404’s. That airline only lasted a year.

One of Florida Airlines former Martin 404’s now resides in the Martin Museum in Maryland, and is probably the only remnant aircraft once flown by this former Florida commuter empire.

Air Sunshine
Back when Florida Folk Hero and singer Jimmy Buffett was still a novel item and the “true” character of Key West was largely untainted by corporate hands, one notable Florida commuter airline would chug passengers in its DC-3s from Tampa and Miami to Key West and Marathon. That carrier was Air Sunshine.

From best educated guesses, this commuter lasted from about 1974 to 1978, probably another victim of deregulation.

I remember Greg and I would “fantasize’ about boarding an Air Sunshine DC-3 and slowly winging our way south to Margaritaville, Hemmingway, coconuts and coral reefs. Sadly it never passed the ‘fantasy” stage!

Author’s Timetables

Air Sunshine
1. December 15, 1974 (Miami, Tampa, Key West, Marathon)
2. December 1, 1976 (Miami, Tampa, Key West, Marathon)

Florida Airlines
1. February 15, 1971 (Jacksonville, Gainesville, Ocala, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte, Ft. Myers)
2. September 1, 1974 (Jacksonville, Gainesville, Ocala, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Bradenton, Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte, Ft. Myers)
3. November 9, 1974 (“The Florida Connection” - Jacksonville, Gainesville, Ocala, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Bradenton, Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte, Ft. Myers)
4. December 15, 1975 (Air South and Shawnee Airlines added - Atlanta, Hilton Head, St. Simon’s Island, Freeport, Nassau, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Vero Beach, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Ocala, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Bradenton, Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte, Ft. Myers)
5. December 15, 1976 (“The Connection” - Atlanta, Hilton Head Island, St. Simon’s Island, Freeport, Nassau, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Bradenton, Ft. Myers)

Keep your boarding passes ready for next week’s PCR when we review Mackey and Mackey International Airlines, National Florida Airlines, Gull Air and Executive Airlines!

"La Floridiana" is ©2004 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.