It was shortly after the Second World War.
The mild climate and the hospitality of the people made Madeira a promising tourist destination but maritime and shipping connections with the rest of Europe were limited.
Many British citizens, who could afford it, had spent the hostilities in Madeira to avoid the horrors of Germany Nazi bombardments, because Portugal had been a neutral nation during a conflict that engulfed most of Europe in flames.
The vision of the Royal Air Force Wing Commander Barry T Aikman led to the creation of Aquila Airways the first passenger air service to Madeira.
Aikman ,an highly decorated war hero had flown flying boats during the war in many missions against German Luftwaffe(German Air Force) saw the opportunity of using them in that holiday route.
The aircraft ,which operated the passenger service for the rich and famous was the “Sunderland” hydroplane, suitable to fly and ” land” at Funchal Bay.
The Sunderland flying boats were the first air connection to Madeira islands
The planes flew their first holiday route from 1948, for about ten years, from Southampton to Madeira , with a refuelling stop via Lisbon.
Flying boat arriving in Funchal circa 1950
The price of the fare was, at the time ,the same as buying a trip around the world, but the passengers flew to Madeira in style
Only the wealthy could afford the exorbitant tickets price, but the service was really first class with the most sophisticated food and seating comfort.
The success of the Madeira Route led later to added other tourist destinations that did not have land-based runways, like Las Palmas, Capri, Santa Margaherita and Montreux.
The competition from conventional aircraft with larger passenger capacity ,the advent of jet and the building of land airstrips facilities led to the demise of Aquila Airways in 1958 .
Madeira had to wait for another six years to get a regular passenger service, when conventional landing airstrip facility started operating in the early sixties .
By then Aquila Airways had become a legend in the history of the golden years of the flying boats to Madeira Islands.
As primeiras careiras aéreas para a Madeira foram operadas por hidroaviões da Áquila Airways ,uma companhia criada pelo veterano da Real Forca Aérea Inglesa, Barry T Aikman, um dos mais condecorados veteranos da RAF, que teve a ideia de utilizar esse tipo de aviões para destinos de grande potencial turístico como a Madeira ,onde ainda não havia pistas de aterragens convencionais.
As aeronaves eram hidroaeroplanos da classe “Sunderland”, que foram intensivamente utilizados em missões de combate contra a Alemanha nazi durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial .
O serviço era do maior luxo, com refeições e acomodação de primeira classe ,mas o preço dos bilhetes era exorbitante e equivalia à época ao custo de uma volta ao mundo.
As carreiras regulares de passageiros operaram cerca de dez anos, entre Southampton no Sul de Inglaterra e a Baía do Funchal, com uma escala para abastecimento em Lisboa.
A época áurea da navegação aérea da Áquila Airways na rota Madeira e as memórias desses tempos estão patentes em museu no Funchal , onde se exibem fotos e muita documentação sobre notáveis máquinas voadoras e até a embarcação que fazia o transbordo de passageiros para terra firme.