We wish we could board the aircraft of time and go back to 1941. In the hedge of the island, we would gather around a table Vasco and José Bensaúde, Augusto Arruda, Augusto Soares de Albergaria, and Albano de Freitas da Silva Oliveira and ask what we asked a few days ago to those who follow us at the celebration of our anniversary.
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Almost halfway between America and Europe, the Azores today is still an isolated territory divided into the reality of nine islands. And that hasn’t changed since 1941. The archipelago has not changed location, but it has become closer to the rest of the world. And this was the main desire of the founders of SATA, which has come true over the eighty years of the company’s existence. Today we have tranquillity, and we have everything else. And in part, we owe it to them.
Going back in time is not possible, at least not in the way we imagine. We can, therefore, resort to the newspapers of the time, read what was written by others, linger on the black and white photos, try to establish connections, talk to those who know more about the experience of 1941 and who would have had the privilege of living with these entrepreneurs from the beginning of the last century.
Therefore, among the research and writings of Fátima Sequeira Dias, Ermelindo Peixoto, and Carlos Riley, but also the historical notes by Henrique de Aguiar Oliveira Rodrigues, and other digressions by the published work of J. Silva Júnior, or the most recent publication “Alto Mar” about the business path of Bensaúde, it has been possible to better understand the context of the time. And, with so much good information, it will be difficult not to lose track of what we were about to tell…
In 1941, “the Azores had a population of about 286,854 inhabitants: 51% of which lived on the island of São Miguel, 2.7% on Santa Maria, and 18.6% on Terceira, just to mention the islands with airports. More than half the population worked in agriculture. Corn was the main crop and the basis of the islands’ food. Vines, cereals, broad beans, potatoes, beets, tobacco, tea, and pineapples were also grown, especially on the island of São Miguel. Cattle breeding was beginning to spread in the archipelago.” (1) And because one thing led to another, as a result of production trends, the manufacturing industry emerged. The Micaelense tobacco factory, the Micaelense spinning and weaving factory, and the innovative Sugar and Alcohol factory are examples of this.
Work, a keen eye for business, daring, and worldly vision: the traits that united or complemented the founders.
If we look at the photographs and texts from the time, the stereotypical hypothesis that the Azores were, in 1941, real doldrums quickly comes to mind. And by doldrums, we mean, literally, a place without movement, without dynamism, in short, a place of purposeless wonder and gathering. And it could be, but only for some!
In the vocabulary of 2021, we would say that the “Sociedade Açoreana de Transportes Aéreos” was formed by a multidisciplinary task force that suffered the hardships of not having easy connections to and from the archipelago. Despite the seemingly phlegmatic pace of the city of Ponta Delgada, there is no record of these five men indulging in idleness. They were dreamers in the right dose, driven by the resolve to see their business life made easier and to actively participate in the development of their homeland. They were men of capital, action, and ambition. Furthermore, they were prepared people, who studied abroad, had training and method. We did not find the same strengths in all of them, and that is a good thing. The Task Force was diverse in skills and, therefore, complemented each other.
About Vasco and José Bensaúde, we will say that it is impossible to talk about the economic and social development of the archipelago without coming across, several times, the name House of Bensaúde. Where there was a lack of service, merchandise, functional services, or modernity, there they were. The desire to equip the archipelago with foreign connections was not new. With businesses progressing in various geographies, travelling would be a pleasure but, yes, also an obligation. And as it was for them, so it would be for others. It was the case for Augusto D’Athaíde Corte Real Soares de Albergaria, who was a collector, a businessman, a negotiator, and a landlord. He held businesses in various parts of the world, dedicating himself to several activities. When it comes to Augusto Arruda, we find his name linked to activities as diverse as the assembly of the telephone network, the municipalization of electricity, management, and advocacy. He had a significant role in the development of tourism through the administration of “Sociedade Terra Nostra”. He would be associated with the unique ability to build business relationships with everyone, together with Albano de Freitas da Silva Oliveira. Both related in international aviation circles, connections they cultivated due to the stopovers made in Horta by aviation pioneers such as Pan American Airways System. Albano de Oliveira was Sweden’s Consul and Brazil’s Vice-Consul. He moved naturally in cosmopolitan environments, and his enthusiasm was contagious to everyone around him.
The details of the Foundation of ” Sociedade Açoreana de Estudos Aéreos”
“The creation of the Sociedade Açoreana de Estudos Aéreos occurred on August 21, 1941. The social capital was 24 thousand escudos, an amount divided into equal shares of 4,800 escudos. The object of this society was to study the possibilities of connecting, by air, the islands with each other and with Lisbon, and also to seek the concession of the respective exploration of the insular airspace from the Portuguese government“. (1) The company’s headquarters were in Ponta Delgada, on the island of São Miguel. A year after its incorporation, on August 2, 1942, the newspaper Correio dos Açores reported on the “great initiative.”
But the process was far from being quick and easy. Four more long years passed before the first SATA plane took off. Again, the newspaper Correio dos Açores of February 28, 1947, published an article by Dinis da Luz which, concerning the start of SATA’s work, stated that it took “four long years of effort, diligence, struggles, and uncertainties. It was necessary an excellent will overcome innumerable great obstacles. And small ones, too. Which are almost always the most difficult to overcome.” (2)
The take-off of SATA’s first flight was the pinnacle of a process that required what was then called an “excellent will”! The kind of will that makes it possible to turn dreams into reality. The same kind that allows that reality to persist for eight decades.
Today, after so many stories, we agree with what Baron Cristiano de Caters published in 1929 in the Correio dos Açores of August 8 an article entitled “The Azores are in fashion now being the aviators rendez-vous“, stating that the Azores was “an almost unknown paradise that many French people don’t quite know where it is, but which, thanks to the ocean crossings that use this route, where the archipelago offers itself as the only possible stopover between the New and the Old World, has acquired noisy fame that grows every year.”
If it were possible to go back in time, we would invite the Baron de Caters to board with us on a direct Azores Airlines flight, which connects Paris to Ponta Delgada two or three times a week, to see what he would say about this path we have taken so far.
After all, the “excellent will” of our founders still lives in us!
Bibliographical references quoted:
(1) Fátima Sequeira Dias, Diário de Navegação – Edição comemorativa do 50º aniversário da SATA Air Açores. Edição particular SATA
(2) Henrique de Aguiar Oliveira Rodrigues, Notas Históricas II. Edição de Autor
(3) Digital Photographic Archive of the Cultural Institute of Ponta Delgada.