sights & culture


Hidden Budapest: How the city nearly become a major seaplane hub


  • Gábor Wágner

12/07/2021 9.26am

Beside the Buda end of Liberty Bridge, a plaque can be spotted if you know where to look. It’s not at eye level but on a low stone wall. Every day, thousands pass by without even seeing it. According to the text, in the 1920s a seaplane port operated near where the ship station now stands on the scheduled BKK Budapest transport network. A century ago, other plans were drawn up for this location and Hungary's bravest pilot duly hired. Here’s how both met a sorry fate.

The great seaplane boom took place after World War I, when civil aviation began to advance. These types of aircraft could take off and land on water, and proved popular until World War II.

Cumbersome seaplanes could not compete with PanAm’s faster and safer long-range Boeing 314 Clippers, flying boats produced from the late 1930s onwards. By the late 1940s, the seaplane was just a fad.

Liberty (then Franz Joseph) Bridge, 1926

Photo: Fortepan / Pesti Brúnó

They appeared in Hungary relatively quickly, and large-scale plans were drawn up for these amphibious craft to ply the DanubeAéroexpress was a joint Hungarian-German venture. On the Hungarian side, the founders were noblemen, Count Endre Jankovich-Bésán, and on the German side, the aircraft and engine manufacturer, Junkers in Dessau, which was in its heyday in the 1920s.

Founded in 1923, the company had ambitions to become a major player in air transport, not only domestically but also abroad.

The Aéroexpress plaque, unveiled in 1996

Photo: Wikipedia

Right from the start, Aéroexpress received licences for three routes: from Budapest to Prague, to Székesfehérvár, Nagykanizsa and Zagreb, and to Bucharest. However, with the exception of Austria, it wasn’t possible to reach agreement with the other neighbouring countries.

Domestic air transport from Budapest for 5,000 crowns and the Budapest-Vienna line remained. Seaplanes would travel back and forth several times a day, transporting aristocrats and wealthy citizens to and from the Gellért Hotel & Spa, then both under the same umbrella and the most prestigious lodging in town.

György Endresz

Photo: Wikipedia

Sadly, this was not enough for the ambitious plans or the long-term future of Aéroexpress, not even with the addition of a Munich flight towards the end of the story.

The company’s airport, founded in 1923, was at the Buda end of Liberty Bridge, then known as Franz Joseph Bridge. They soon signalled their ambitions by engaging one of the famous Hungarian pilots of the age, György Endresz.

He had gained a considerable reputation for himself during World War I and, although an active member in Hungary’s subsequent and short-lived Soviet Republic as commander of the Red Squadron, he was still able to join Aéroexpress a few years later.

Seaplanes at Franz Joseph Bridge, 1925

Photo: Fortepan / Weygand Tibor

It wouldn’t last long. Aéroexpress was forced to close its seaplane station in 1926, and in 1930 the company also ceased to exist. Endresz remained a pilot for Junkers – he was also an instructor for the Aéro Association – but only until 1932.

The airman had gone to Rome for a meeting of the world’s ocean pilots, but his plane crashed on landing, The 39-year-old Endresz and his navigator both died immediately.

We do not know whether Aéroexpress failed to take off due to bad business policy or poor neighbourly relations, but even if the planned routes had been undertaken, the heyday of the seaplane would only have lasted another ten years or so. What if they would have reached agreement with Boeing? We will never know.

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