The Birth of Air Transport in Cuba
On 17 May 1913, Domingo Rosillo piloted an airplane
from Key West, Florida to Cuba securing the $10,000
award for being the first to accomplish the feat.
This 90-mile crossing came just ten years after the
Wright brothers’ historic flight and four years
after Blériot’s famous English-Channel
crossing of twenty-one miles. Cubans rallied behind
the achievement. As the stamps in fig. 1
depict, however, Agustín Parlá, a Cuban-born
pilot who crossed the Straits two days after Rosillo
with just a simple compass (Rosillo preferred a naval
escort) acquired the more lasting recognition.
In October 1919, the Compañía Aérea
Cubana (C.A.C) was founded by Hannibal J. de Mesa.
He purchased six Farman
aircraft, which a French team brought to Cuba
by ship. C.A.C. began a flying school with Farman
F-40s; it did some sightseeing around Havana; carried
out surveying and aerial photography; and started
a small airline. The General Manager was Agustin Parlá.
The first Cuban airline service started in October
1920 and although this enterprise survived for only
a few months, it opened the first regular airline
schedule in the whole of Latin America. Two weeks
earlier, a United States company had opened an air
link between Havana and the United States. These were
bold experiments in the embryo stage of an industry
that had yet to identify its role in society.
Meanwhile, in 1920, the Cuban aviator, Jaime González,
was to make the first air mail flight in Cuba (fig. 2a),
and on 15 October 1920, in the United States, Florida
West Indies Airways (F.W.I.A.) received the first
Foreign Air Mail contract from the U.S. Post Office
(fig 3, fig 4,
fig 5). One
month later, Aeromarine, which had purchased F.W.I.A.,
began regular service from Key West to Havana using
Curtiss Type F5L flying boats.
On 30 October 1920, C.A.C. had started Cuban domestic
services, with Farman F-60 Goliaths on a new route
from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, via Cienfuegos/Santa
Clara and Camagüey. But on January 1921, this
service ended, because of economic depression in Cuba,
caused by big sugar beet harvests in Europe. By 1
Nov. 1921, Aeromarine was operating two daily Curtiss
F5L services from Key West to Havana. But after about
two years, Aeromarine also ceased operations, because
of financial losses.