Nautical scenes reflecting the beauty of the Virgin Islands often include photographs of seaplanes taking off and landing in peaceful teal blue waters. What a fascinating travel option for vacationers and local commuters!
These days, Seaborne Airlines provides regular flights between St. Thomas and St. Croix. But the history of commercial seaplane service in the V.I. dates back to 1963 when famed American aviation pioneer Charles F. “Charlie” Blair, Jr. put $10,000 down on a Grumman “Goose,” hired five employees, and started an airline offering inexpensive island-to-island travel.
Over time, while still working for Pan American airlines, he built up the Antilles fleet to 27 propeller-driven float planes that, like Blair, had served in World War II.
Happily, these seaplanes were well suited for short hops over water — and business thrived. At its peak, Antilles Air Boats served St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, Tortola, Peter Island, Fajardo and San Juan. By 1980 it was the largest seaplane airline in the world. In 1981, it was sold to Air Resorts.
During World War II, Captain Blair served in the United States Navy. He later joined the U. S. Air Force, reaching the rank of brigadier general. His was an era of amazing aviation advances — and challenges. In his storied career, Blair helped to establish new routes as well as navigation techniques for long-distance flights.
In 1968, Blair married mega film star Maureen O’Hara whom he first met on a flight to Ireland back in 1947. The couple resided on St. Croix. O’Hara also made her mark in the tropics as publisher of The Virgin Islander, a full-color monthly magazine that showcased the territory and its people.
When Blair died in 1978, O’Hara took over the company, becoming the first woman to serve as president of an airline.
Today, the Seaplane terminal located at the Charlotte Amalie Harbor Seaplane Base is named in honor of Charles F. “Charlie” Blair, Jr.