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A Nostalgic Look At Antilles Air Boats

an old postcoard with an antilles air boat landing on the water there is a graphic on the bottom showing how the planes travels from island to island.

Written by Coconut Post

Whether you’re in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands as a visitor, a local — or always in spirit — Coconut Post keeps you posted on fun-filled news ’n views. Published monthly by Flamboyan On The Bay Resort & Villas, we’re focused on sharing our people, places, and fun things happening in paradise.

July, 2022

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!

black and white photo of charles f "charlie" blair, jr. founder antilles air boats

Above: This photo of Charles F. “Charlie” Blair, Jr., founder Antilles Air Boats, was taken by famed photographer Fritz Henle.

Top of the page: A color post card from the 1960s promotes the island-hopping appeal of Antilles Air Boats.

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. 

Right: The founder of Antilles Air Boats, Charles F. “Charlie” Blair, served in both the U.S. Navy and Air Force and was a pilot for Pan American Airlines.

the found of antilles air boats, charles f blair standing in his pan american airlines uniform

Above: Flamboyan guests wishing to visit St. Croix during their stay can take advantage of Seaborne Airline’s quick 20-minute flight departing from the Seaplane terminal in Charlotte Amalie Harbor.

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.  

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1 Comment

  1. dick

    working with the usps i was transferred to st thomas from north carolina in 1966. flew to st croix 3x weekly and to pr and sj once each week. charlie died 2 years after i left. on one flight the local fbi agent forgot his gun so i loaned him mine rather than delay passengers by a return trip. bought tons of booze and a dozen rolex watches while there and then wore them on my biceps to escape pr customs. got too drunk on cheap scotch too many times but mostly filtered gallons of haig and haig pinch

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