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Friday, January 22, 2021

Harbour-to-lake seaplane commute may be possible next year

Heritage experts, noise monitors, dog walkers, parents with prams, politicians, aviation enthusiasts and business stakeholders squinted at the sky today to watch a 15-seat commercial seaplane from Sydney make a soft splash in Lake Burley Griffin for the first time.

Sydney Seaplanes pilots Andrew Gross (left) and Nicholas Bone (right).

Sydney Seaplanes CEO Aaron Shaw said he hoped to have a regular commercial passenger service from Rose Bay to the Territory up and running by the second half of 2021, pending approval from the National Capital Authority (NCA).

“There’s not many firsts left in aviation,” he said.

“So for us here today to be the first seaplane to ever land on Lake Burley Griffin in the nation’s capital is a really momentous moment for the pilots on the flight.”

Sydney Seaplanes pilot Andy Gross said his team chose the deepest lake water to make a landing, and amphibious planes could land in spectacular isolated spots.

“It’s amazing, you can go anywhere. You can start in a massive city and end up in really remote locations.”

The interstate business is largely focussed on tourism; however, its new offshoot, Alt Air, is set to capture the attention of regional commuters. In Canberra, Mr Shaw said that meant business and government workers.

NCA chair Terry Weber said the Authority will now carry out a full consultation, beginning today with the test flight.

ACT Senator Zed Seselja speaks to Sydney Seaplanes CEO Aaron Shaw
ACT Senator Zed Seselja speaks to Sydney Seaplanes CEO Aaron Shaw.

“We had to get a plane to land first, so that we could touch it, feel it and hear it – albeit that I couldn’t hear too much!” he said.

Mr Weber anticipated feedback from rowers, sailors and other people who use the lake for recreation and said “everyone will be heard”.

NCA chief executive Sally Barnes said the board would be careful, methodical and measured when it came to the approval process.

“We need the lake to be the heart of the city, we need the heart to pump – but we definitely don’t want the heart to pass out from overuse,” she said.

ACT Senator Zed Seselja backed the initiative and said the feedback he’d heard from the community was “overwhelmingly positive”.

“I think people are excited by the concept of enlivening our lake, building our tourism industry, and having our national attractions get more attention.”

Mr Seselja expected his Federal Government colleagues would make good use of the proposed service, and Wentworth MP Dave Sharma was meant to be aboard the flight set to depart Rose Bay, within his electorate, this morning.

Passengers prepare to disembark the 15-seat seaplane.

But bad weather meant the De Havilland Canada Twin Otter seaplane departed from Bankstown instead.

Mr Shaw said this was part of the appeal of seaplanes – due to their amphibious nature, take off and departure is possible from land or water, and his business had approval to use Canberra Airport in the rare event conditions made a water-based landing impossible.

It was exactly one hour from Sydney Harbour to Lake Burley Griffin, according to Mr Shaw, and boarding and disembarkation took approximately 10 minutes each.

This shaved an estimated 90 minutes off the typical airport-to-airport trip.

“By our reckoning, that’s the fastest way of getting to the centre of both cities.”

While Mr Shaw wouldn’t speculate about the cost of a ticket, he said the airfare would be priced “very competitively”.

He proposed two flights per day, the first departing Canberra mid-morning and the second leaving Rose Bay mid-afternoon.

Alt Air operator Sydney Seaplanes recently agreed to a world-first partnership with leading electric aircraft engine maker, magniX, and is currently seeking regulatory approval to become Australia’s first fully electric, nil-emissions commercial airline.

The new Alt Air fleet will comprise 15 seat Twin Otters and 12 seat Cessna Caravans, providing an intimate flight experience.

Alt Air flights from Sydney to Port Stephens, Gosford, Hunter Valley, Lake Macquarie, Wollongong, Jervis Bay, Batemans Bay, Narooma and Lake Jindabyne and the Central West are expected to join the schedule gradually from 2022.

Taking off from Lake Burley Griffin to return to Rose Bay, Sydney. Images: Kerrie Brewer

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