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Flying Boat, Inc. (Chalk’s Ocean Airways)

Flying Boat, Inc. (Chalks Ocean Airways)

704 S.W. 34th Street
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33315
U.S.A.
Telephone: (954) 359-0329
Toll Free: (800) 4 CHALKS
Web site: http://www.chalksoceanairways.com

Private Company
Incorporated:
1919 as Chalks Flying Service
Employees: 130
Sales: $6 million (1999 est.)
NAIC: 481111 Scheduled Passenger Air Transportation; 481211 Nonscheduled Chartered Passenger Air Transportation; 487990 Scenic and Sightseeing Transportation, Other; 488190 Other Support Activities for Air Transportation

Flying Boat, Inc., which does business under the trade name Chalks Ocean Airways, is the worlds top seaplane airline. The mode of travel is a unique mixture of convenience and sightseeing, as the planes fly closer to the turquoise Caribbean water than conventional land-based craft and are able to land directly next to some Bahamian resorts. Its seaplanes have become something of a visual icon for Miami; the company also flies from Fort Lauderdale, where it maintains its headquarters. Chalks has changed ownership and names several times. The undeniable glamour and excitement of flying boats often forms some part of the attraction for buyers, though the economics of these high-maintenance craft provides a considerable challenge. Chalks also lays claim to being the worlds oldest scheduled airline, beating KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Avianca Venezuela Airlines by some months.

Origins

Arthur Burns Pappy Chalk founded Chalks Flying Service in 1919, two years after moving to Miami from Paducah, Kentucky. His story is linked with that of aviation legend Tony Jannus, who pioneered the scheduled airline by launching a regular hop from St. Petersburg to Tampa in 1914.

Chalk met Jannus after he made an unscheduled landing in the Ohio River in 1911. Chalk traded his skills as a mechanic at the Kentucky Auto Mechanic Co. for flying lessons. He then spent a few years barnstorming around the South before serving with the U.S. military in World War I. After the war, Chalk started his own flying service in Miami, then largely undeveloped, with a single Stinson Voyager seaplane. He charged $5 for sightseeing flights and $15 for flying lessons.

The operations first terminal was a beach umbrella next to the dock of the Royal Palm Hotel. Bimini was the first destination. In the early days, Chalk hired Bahama natives to carry passengers ashore piggyback. Pappy Chalk himself was flying up to 12 hours a day. Aircraft used included a pair of S-29 Sikorsky seaplanes.

In the prohibition era, rumrunners and their pursuing lawmen formed much of Chalks clientele. In 1926, Chalks began using Watson Island, a newly created landfill, as an operating base. The airline developed a storied charter business, at one point rescuing deposed Cuban President Gerardo Machado amid of volley of bullets.

Wealthy big game hunters and fisherman, typified by Ernest Hemingway, became regular customers after the repeal of prohibition in 1933. The first terminal structure of any substance on Watson Island was built out of coral in 1936.

During World War II, Chalk operated a Fairchild aircraft on submarine patrols. In the postwar period, the nine-passenger Grumman Goose was the workhorse of the fleet.

Pappy Chalk retired in 1964 after the death of his wife, Lillie Mae Chalk, who had helped run the operation since their marriage in 1932. Dean Franklin, Chalks long-time friend, bought the airline in 1966, adding service to Key West and Fort Jefferson the following year.

Businessman Edward Dixon was the next to acquire Chalks in 1973, and he sold it to Resorts International, a developer of hotels in the Bahamas, the next year. Chalk remained chairman of the airline until his death in 1977.

New Planes in the 1970s80s

In the late 1970s, Chalks began using 30-passenger G-lll Albatross seaplanes, a modification of the venerable HU-16, which had been produced as a military aircraft between 1949 and the mid-1960s. At the time, Chalks was flying about 45,000 passengers a year, and demand was increasing. No aircraft companies were then making commercial amphibious airplanes, so Chalks upgraded its own. Antilles Air Boats was acquired in 1979.

Service between Miami, Paradise Island, and West Palm Beach began in 1981. The company upgraded the fleet of five 13-place Grumman G-73 Mallard aircraft to turboprop engines in the early 1980s, at a cost of $4 million.

The television show Miami Vice, a symbol of both Miami and the 1980s, featured a Chalks seaplane in its opening credits. Chalks fleet was as high-maintenance as it was glamorous. It was a unique carrier, its Watson Island base being the smallest port of entry in the United States. Chalks revenues were about $7.5 million in 1986, when it carried 130,000 passengers. Most were staying at Resorts International properties, although island residents used the airline for shopping trips to Miami.

Resorts International owner Jim Crosby was an enthusiastic supporter of the airline and began to expand its fleet with 13 thoroughly upgraded, 30-passenger Grumman G-lll seaplanes. After Crosbys death, these planes went into storage in Arizona. Donald Trump acquired Resorts International in 1987. He owned it for a year before selling it to Merv Griffin Enterprises.

Chalks signature seaplanes were restricted to daylight operations due to the difficulty of ascertaining landing conditions on water at night. In March 1989, Resorts launched another airline, Paradise Island Airways, to handle increased vacation traffic from Florida to the Bahamas. Its three 50-seat, STOL (short take-off and landing) Dash-7 planes were operated by Chalks personnel to land-based airstrips. The two brands were carrying more than 60,000 passengers a year, only a quarter of them on Chalks seaplanes. A handful of other small South Florida airlines, like Aero Coach, plied the skies between Miami or Fort Lauderdale and Nassau or Freeport.

Crossing Stormy Seas in the 1990s

The 1990s began with the near-closing of the airline and its sale in early 1991 to United Capital Corporation of Rockford, Illinois. This venture capital group was owned by Seth and Connie Atwood, two seaplane enthusiasts. The legal entity was called Flying Boat, Inc., but the airline continued to do business under the Chalks name.

Chalks passed an interesting milestone on June 28, 1991, when it flew its first scheduled domestic flight, connecting Miami directly to the Florida Keys. The company had nearly 30,000 passengers in 1991. Chalks became licensed to perform maintenance for other seaplane operators in 1993.

After 75 years of flying, Chalks experienced its first fatal accident in March 1994 when one of its seaplanes crashed upon take-off from the Florida Keys. Two crewmembers were killed.

A group of investors then acquired Chalksknown as Chalks International Airlines at the timefor about $5 million in January 1996. The partners included Miami developer Craig Robins; Chuck Slagle, owner of Alaskas Seaborne Aviation; and Chuck Cobb, who held rights to the Pan Am name.

Chalks began operating as Pan Am Air Bridge on March 1, 1996. However, the airline was not a feeder airline for the new Pan Am, which had returned to operations along the East Coast. The legendary trademark evoked the massive Clipper flying boats that the original Pan American had flown to exotic destinations. Pan Am Air Bridge was then operating a fleet of five Grumman seaplanes.

The former Chalks was up for sale again by September 1997. By this time, it was breaking even. Aircraft leasing company Air Alaska acquired a 70 percent share in the company from Craig Robins in January 1998 for $2 million, at the same time signing notes for another $8 million for five of the companys planes. Pan Am Corp., through its Pan American World Airways unit, retained a 30 percent holding in Pan Am Air Bridge. Air Alaska also acquired land rights to its Watson Island base. A few months later, Guilford Transportation Industries acquired a 30 percent holding in Pan Am Air Bridge via its purchase of Pan American World Airways.

An involuntary bankruptcy temporarily grounded Pan Am Air Bridge in February 1999. It soon restarted operations under its former name, Chalks International Airlines. Chalks was rebranded again in December 1999, as Chalks Ocean Airways. That month, the company relaunched service, opening a new route to Paradise Island, in the Bahamas, whose airport had been closed and was directly accessible only by seaplane. Chalks planes were refurbished and repainted for the opening; the companys terminals were also being upgraded. Paradise Island Airways, Chalks land-based air service, closed in May 1999.

Miami entrepreneur and former Eastern Airlines pilot Jim Confalone acquired Chalks out of bankruptcy on August 2, 1999, for $925,000. By this time, it was operating just two leased aircraft and had only 35 employees. After buying the airline, Confalone agreed to buy 14 30-seat Grumman G-lll seaplanes from Chalks former owner, Seth Atwood of Chicago.

Hope on the Horizon in 2000 and Beyond

The tremendous growth of the Bahamas as a tourist destination, particularly among the affluent, boded well for Chalks niche, a blend of transportation, convenience, and entertainment. In 2000, Chalks began flying from Fort Lauderdale to a Freeport resort, called Our Lucaya, which was being overhauled by Hong Hong developer Hutchinson & Whampoa Ltd.

Company Perspectives:

New ownership, new identity, new destinations, and a bold outlook will ensure that Chalks Ocean Airways remains the worlds premier seaplane airline.

Like most airlines, Chalks was affected by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. It cut schedules by up to 25 percent, and reduced its operations from four full-time aircraft to three flying part-time. The schedule was soon restored, however. While major carriers such as United and American Airlines were dealing with bankruptcy issues, Chalks was beginning to grow again, though the 2003 war in Iraq prompted another temporary slowdown.

Confalone described his CEO business model to the Miami Herald: Customer is first, the Employee is second, and the Owner is last. To ensure the promptest service, employees were discouraged from talking to each other on duty, a practice Confalone borrowed from The Car Wash, one of his successful service-driven enterprises.

In 2003, some industry analysts speculated that Chalks might return to profitability in the coming year. With its long history of weathering financial turbulence, Flying Boat and Chalks seemed likely to remain a leader in its niche market.

Principal Divisions

Bimini Landing.

Principal Competitors

American Eagle; Bahamasair Holdings Limited; Continental Airlines.

Key Dates:

1919:
Chalks founded in Miami by Arthur B. Pappy Chalk.
1926:
Watson Island base established.
1964:
Arthur Chalk retires from Chalks daily operations.
1966:
Chalks friend Dean Franklin buys airline.
1974:
Resorts International acquires Chalks.
1987:
Donald Trump acquires Resorts International.
1988:
Trump sells Resorts to Merv Griffin Enterprises; Chalks files bankruptcy.
1991:
Resorts sells Chalks to United Capital Corporation; companys legal name changed to Flying Boat, Inc.
1996:
Investment group buys Chalks, operates it as Pan Am Air Bridge.
1999:
Jim Confalone acquires Chalks; refurbishes fleet, terminal.
2003:
Chalks continues to grow despite three challenging years for the aviation industry.

Further Reading

Bell, Maya, Land Feud Threatens Miamis Flying Legend, Orlando Sentinel, February 20, 1989, p. B1.

Bellido, Susana, A New Pan Am in the Air, Miami Herald, March 2, 1996, p. B5.

Blackerby, Cheryl, Its Not Splashy, But Seaplane Airline Keeps Floridians Flying, Orange County Register, August 22, 1993, p. D7.

Chalk One Up for Miami Businessman, Press Journal (Vero Beach), August 13, 1999, p. D1.

Chalks International: 75 Years of Uninterrupted Service, Business & Commercial Aviation, July 1, 1994.

Chalks International Becomes Pan Am Air Bridge; No Feeder Plans Yet, Commuter/Regional Airline News, February 19, 1996.

A Chalks OutlineHow the Carrier Went from Grounding to Growth, Commuter/Regional Airline News, August 30, 1999.

Chandler, Michele, Beach Developer Wants Chalks, Miami Herald, December 22, 1995, p. C1.

Clary, Mike, Passengers Still Get a Rush from Chalks Adventure Flights, Miami Herald, August 23, 1992, p. F5.

Cordle, Ina Paiva, Entrepreneur Moves to Buy Miamis Historic Seaplane Venture, Miami Herald, May 5, 1999.

, Nonstop Flight Service Between Miami and Anchorage Planned, Miami Herald, January 31, 1998.

, Pan Am Air Bridge in Miami May Have to Change Its Name, Miami Herald, June 30, 1998.

, Trustee Weighs Offers for Miami Seaplane Business; Judge to Decide, Miami Herald, April 27, 1999.

Doris, Tony, Former Chalks for Sale, Broward Daily Business Review, September 18, 1997, p. A1.

Fields, Gregg, Miami Seaplane Service Sees Sunny Skies Ahead After Years of Turbulence, Miami Herald, April 11, 2003.

, Trump Bid Leaves Chalks Up in the Air, Miami Herald, March 11, 1987, p. 4.

Gonzales, Aminda, Seaplanes Chalk Up 75 Colorful Years, Miami Herald, June 18, 1994, p. B1.

Hagstrom, Suzy, Rough Skies for Commuters; Arriving at Profits Not Easy for Regional Airlines Serving Florida, Orlando Sentinel, July 1, 1985.

Jaffe, Charles A., Pioneer Tony Jannus Played a Part in Chalks Colorful Past, St. Petersburg Times, Bus. Sec., June 7, 1987, p. 31.

, Turbulent Times for Romance, St. Petersburg Times, June 7, 1987, Bus. Sec.

Keating, Dan, Chalks Spreads Its Wings, Adds Flights to Key West, Miami Herald, June 13, 1991, p. B5.

Kleinberg, Howard, Beloved Chalks the Oldest Airline? Maybe, Maybe Not, Miami Herald, February 13, 1996, p. A9.

Magnotta, Ann and Vince, New Planes Help Deliver Visitors to Paradise Island, Sun Sentinel, March 12, 1989, p. 8J.

Matas, Alina, Chalks New Chapter, Broward Daily Business Review, October 26, 2001, p. A1.

Nesbitt, Jim, Flying Closer to a Last Splash in the Bahamas, News-day, November 5, 1989, p. 21.

New Chalks Owners Plan Gradual Growth in Seaplane Service, Regional Aviation Weekly, February 15, 1991, p. 60.

North, David M., Albatross Refurbished for Commuter, Aviation Week & Space Technology, April 9, 1979, p. 32.

One-on-One with Chalk Internationals Jim Confalone, Commuter/Regional Airline News, August 23, 1999.

Reed, Ted, Chalks Gets New Owner, New Name, Miami Herald, January 30, 1996, p. B7.

Resorts International Sells Chalks to United Capital, Aviation Daily, February 19, 1991.

Rimmer, David, Chalks Responds to Terror, Business & Commercial Aviation, November 1, 2001, p. 30.

Staletovich, Jenny, Two Men Die When Seaplane Crashes in Waters Off Key West, Palm Beach Post, March 19, 1994, p. 2B.

Stieghorst, Tom, Chalk Up 3 New Flights to Freeport; Seaplane Service Starts in December, Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), September 27, 2000, p. 1D.

, Small Airlines Stay Aloft on Service to Islands, Sun Sentinel (Ford Lauderdale), August 15, 1988, p. 3.

Stiteler, Rowland, Sea Shuttle, Orlando Sentinel, October 23, 1988, p. 8.

Weller, Steve, Chalks Venerable Seaplanes Downed by High-Roller with Low Bank Balance, Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), November 21, 1989, p. 12A.

Frederick C. Ingram

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