CLEARWATER — The Tony Jannus Award is named for the pioneer who gave birth to the commercial aviation industry right here in Tampa Bay: Jannus piloted an airboat from St. Petersburg to Tampa on Jan. 1, 1914.
The award named after him was given Wednesday to another giant of the commercial aviation industry: Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson.
Anderson, 57, who joined Delta in 2007, was honored for being a "strategic risk-taker" and a "big-picture visionary." Under Anderson, Delta merged with Northwest Airlines, bought its own oil refinery to reduce fuel costs and in 2012 became the world's largest airline.
Anderson was awarded the honor by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society at a press conference Wednesday at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Anderson could not attend, but a Delta executive and 13 local employees accepted the award on his behalf.
"The board has selected a … recipient that is reshaping the airline industry," said Bill McGrew, co-chair of the society. "He is reshaping Delta and the entire airline model … re-examining the financial model to make the next 100 years of the commercial airline both profitable and (continuing to) serve the nation."
Board member Robert Bohan said that Anderson embodies what the Tony Jannus Award is all about.
"When you look at what Tony Jannus stands for and who you're going to nominate, there's a lot of things that go into it," he said. "Tony Jannus was not only the originator of the world's first scheduled commercial airline flight, but he was also a pioneer, a visionary, a risk-taker.
"When you see all of the people here in this airport today, they're here because of Tony Jannus. If he hadn't made that flight, they wouldn't be here today."
Allison Ausband, Delta's vice president of reservation sales and customer care, accepted the award on behalf of the company's CEO with 13 of the airline's local employees standing behind her.
"He also embodies the Delta culture," Ausband said of Anderson. "There is no better person who (embodies) that as a role model than Richard."
A dinner in Anderson's honor will be Nov. 15 at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Peterburg.
Then, on Jan. 1, 2014, the centennial of Jannus' flight will be celebrated with a re-creation of his 23-minute flight from St. Petersburg to Tampa. A working replica of his airboat, the Benoist XIV (pronounced ben-wa) is now being produced at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.