Today in Transportation History – 1962: Debut of an Islandhopping Airline

A new airline, Windward Islands Airway (Winair), began operations in Sint Maarten in the northeast Caribbean. At the time, Sint Maarten – constituting most of the southern portion of the island of Saint Martin – was one of five Dutch island territories in the region that were collectively known as the Netherlands Antilles; Sint Maarten’s territorial status would change in 2010 when it was reclassified as a standalone constituent country of the Netherlands.

Until 1946, Sint Maarten was completely dependent on seacraft for the transportation of passengers, mail, and cargo. Several pioneering pilots in the region finally began providing plane service to and from Sint Maarten and nearby islands. It took more than a decade, however, for a few entrepreneurs to realize the untapped potential of more regular airborne service for Sint Maarten and its general vicinity.

One of these entrepreneurs was Georges Gréaux, who hailed from the island of Saint Barthélemy (approximately 20 miles southeast of Sint Maarten). Using a Cessna aircraft that his father bought for him, Gréaux started making regular plane runs in the northeast Caribbean. At around the same time, a fellow Saint Barthélemy native named Hippolyte Ledée likewise began providing plane service to various local islands. After Hurricane Donna slammed through the region in 1960 and severely damaged their planes, Gréaux and Ledée went from being competitors to jointly establishing Gréaux and Ledée Air Services (GLAS).

The success of GLAS ultimately resulted in Gréaux and Ledée discussing expanded airline operations with Norman “Chester” Wathey. After a meeting at a bar in Sint Maarten’s main town of Philipsburg, the three entrepreneurs agreed to launch Winair. “The Ideal Airline for Leisure Islandhopping,” proclaimed one early ad for the new venture.

Winair remains in service today. The airline provides regular flights to 10 destinations within the Leeward Islands, which is the geographic designation for the group of northeast Caribbean islands that includes Saint Martin. Winair’s headquarters can be found on the grounds of Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten.

Captain Georges Greaux left. Mr. Chester Wathey, CEO, with special counsel to the D.R in SXM and Miss Dom Republic & chaperons

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