It seems incredible that after 4 years of living here, I’m still able to uncover things about this city that I never knew before. It seems that Trieste is the birthplace of Italy’s commercial air travel.  97 years ago, commercial flights began departing from Trieste. Yes, I know, that seems very far-fetched and yet it’s true…

The Societa’ Italiana Servizi Aerei  S.I.S.A.,  was the first Italian commercial airline company, it was founded by the Triestine shipowners Fratelli Cosulich. It offerred scheduled flights from Trieste, via sea planes (built by the Aeronautical Workshops of the Cantiere Navale Triestino of Monfalcone), creating the first regular civil aviation service in Italy.

On April 1, 1926, four sea planes (CANT 10 ter models)* 2 departing from Trieste headed to Turin and at the same time, 2 identical aircraft taking off from Turin to Trieste. The four sea planes met at the intermediate port on the river Pò in Pavia. For the sake of historical accuracy, the first scheduled flight from Trieste actually departed from Portoroz because the Bora that day was so strong as to prevent take-off, so the passengers were driven to Istria for departure.

* The CANT 10 was a flying boat airliner produced in Italy in the 1920s. It was a conventional biplane design with single-bay, unstaggered wings of equal span, having seating for four passengers within the hull, while the pilot sat in an open cockpit. The engine was mounted in pusher configuration in the interplane gap.

The following September 20th, the first “sea plane lift” was inaugurated. It was a floating hangar, moored at the beginning of the Molo Audace pier, on the north side, and it was named for Oscar Cosulich, who had drowned a few months earlier in Portoroz in an attempt to rescue his son.

The intensification of the sea plane activity  eventually required the construction of an actual terminal , an idea that became reality when in 1929, when Italo Balbo (at the time he was Undersecretary of State for the Air Force) visited Trieste and ordered the plans be drawn up.

Located where the Generali had their warehouses, the structure was  designed by the engineer, Richard Pollak. According to reports, “the construction began in October 1931 and provided for a  hangar with 12 sliding doors – 80 meters long, 35 wide and 11 high – which could accommodate twelve sea planes, and a lift which had been placed, on the sea side, (which from the photos appears to be Trieste’s beloved URSUS). The slip-way was 22 meters long and 9 wide. On the southern side was a small building  housing the waiting rooms for passengers, offices and technical equipment; its main facade was decorated with two “winged genies”, made of stone by the craftsman Mario Gustini, based on a design by the sculptor, Franco Asco (Atschko), the same designer of the bas reliefs placed on the facade of the Maritime Station”.

After this initial flight, regular connections between the 2 cities began: the flights departed three times a week with synchronized departures from Turin and Trieste, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with a layover of about half an hour at the halfway points of either Venice or Pavia. The trip took 5hrs each way.

The ticket price was 350 lire: a decidedly high cost for the time and it also included a blanket and a hot water bottle as the aircraft were without pressurization or heating.

In Turin the sea planes took off and landed on the Po river, in front of the Valentino Park, in the stretch between the Umberto I bridge and the Isabella bridge. where a hangar raised a few meters from the average water level of the river was built nearby.

In their first year of operation, the service saw 575 connections, 1,589 flight hours, 238,262 kilometers traveled, 1,588 passengers and 13,470 kilograms of goods and luggage.  Eventually new destinations were added, among them:  Zadar-Ancona-Venice, Trieste-Rijeka-Zadar, Trieste-Brioni-Venice, Trieste-Venice-Pavia-Genoa and again Ancona-Zadar, Rijeka-Abbey-Brioni-Venice.

In 1933, the service began to see a decline, due not only to the advent of newer land-based planes, but also due to politics as a push was made to create a single national airline. Then with the war, all commercial aviation ground to a halt.

The only remaining evidence of the first commercial air route is a plaque, affixed to a wall of the small building on the Molo Audace, that reads: The first Italian civil aviation plane, departing from this mirror-like sea, bound Trieste to Turin 1.4.26 – 1.4.56 – Municipality of Trieste.


One comment

  1. Very good piece.
    The only mistake is assuming that the crane in front of the Idroscalo lifting a plane was the URSUS.
    It was just a rail mounted shore crane and as you must know the URSUS was a floating, much bigger and powerful crane.
    In the third batch of your photos you can see the URSUS lifting and placing a big steel structure on the front of the Idroscalo. At the right of this photo there is a greenish one, showing the completed Idroscalo with the shore crane – you will note the great difference.
    Kind regards and go on with your very good work.
    Nereo Castelli

    Liked by 2 people

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