Article: The World’s Shortest Airline

  • Image of Leavens Brothers aircraft being loaded with cargo

    July/August, 1956 Esso Air World Magazine

    The 12-minute flight linking Leamington and Pelee Island over 22 miles of Lake Erie, Canada, is believed to be the shortest air route in the world with three scheduled flights per day. The nearest known contender to the Lilliputian laurels is the 29-mile scheduled run between Perth and Rottnest Island, in Western Australia.

    In addition to its scheduled flights, the twin-engined Cessna Crane of Leavens Brothers makes up to ten trips a day during the winter when the mail, freight and passenger list is heavy and the ferry is icebound. The speed and low cost ($87 for the return trip) contrasts favourably with the 90-minute, one-way ferry trip. Scheduled runs are made six days a week because of the mail contract. However, emergencies frequently make Sunday flights necessary.

    Leavens Brothers started their company in 1926, and have four Ontario bases at Windsor, Leamington, London and Toronto; their principal work being concerned with charter flying, crop-dusting and flying instruction. The Leamington-Pelee Island service was begun in 1941 and it is now an indispensable service for the 450 residents of the island, as well as for thousands of summer visitors and sportsmen who go over for the pheasant shooting in the fall.

    During 1955, the 22-mile airline carried 72,120 lb. of freight, 79,020 lb. of mail, and 3,006 passengers on 893 round trips. One regular mail item comes in the form of small buzzing boxes. Pelee Island has a queen-bee rearing station, which demands isolation, and all through the summer, bees are shipped in both directions. Hunting dogs and baby chicks in their seasons are also familiar cargo.

    A taxi company in Leamington has the contract to take reservations and to convey passengers and baggage to and from the airstrip. The pilot handles the rest of the operation. Servicing and maintenance is done at the company’s base at Windsor, 25 miles away, at which time an alternate aircraft takes over the Leamington-Pelee run.

    This section of Western Ontario is Canada’s “deep south”, although it resembles Holland with its flat fields, dykes and canals. Both mainland and island airstrips are below lake level and are protected by earth dykes and wide ditches. The grass strips are 3,500 feet long and are flanked by farmers’ fields of soya beans. The only take-off problems arise in the spring and fall, when shell-ice forms on the airstrips, making wet holes. At such times the aircraft is based at Windsor.

    Although the pilot gets weather information from Windsor and Cleveland for the encircling areas, the overwater stretch between mainland and island has its own peculiarities, and storms often rage through that channel without touching either shore. Not long ago pilot Lorne Beecroft, with full complement of four passengers, ran into a waterspout for which there could have been no warning. He counts himself lucky to have survived.

    Image of Leavens Brothers aircraft being loaded with cargo

    Image of Leavens Brothers aircraft being refueled

    This article originally appeared in the July/August, 1956 edition of Esso Air World magazine.

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