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Seaplanes — from Niche to Normal

On 20 March 2024, an inaugural one-day event brought together some of the leading figures in the seaplane and amphibious aviation industry. Quaynote Communications are behind this event, titled “the future opportunities for seaplanes and amphibious aviation”, which took place in the iconic and history-rich Venice, Italy.

The flourishing domain of amphibious aircraft and seaplanes holds incredible promise, as technological advancements increasingly render them appealing, effective, and eco-conscious options for air mobility solutions. As Lorna Titley, the Director of Quaynote, aptly states: “seaplanes and flying boats make an understated mark on the global aerospace landscape.”

Why Venice? Of course it is a wonderfully beautiful location to be participating in a conference, a location iconic for its reliance and usage of waterways — and as such reminiscent of seaplane usage — and while currently no seaplanes operate in and around Venice, they used to, quite some time ago… The first seaplane services in Italy launched as early as 1926 with flights operating between Turin and Trieste, including half hour stopovers in Pavia and Venice. The history of the city’s connection with the water was what Max Pinucci, founder of design company MBVision, explored in his keynote speech. 

He says: “Venezia is the perfect location for the first conference of this kind, because this is where it started. Venezia had the first school and the first department for seaplanes in Italy.” And continues with another sensible observation: “But why does seaplane aviation make sense? It is because we are covered by 71% water. We also have 1 million miles of coastline, 4.2 million square kilometers of lakes and 3 million miles of rivers. We can use that water.”

The conference had a number of topics. Starting with the legacy of amphibious aircraft, sessions took us through the challenges and opportunities of financing and insurance for amphibious aviation, a case study from Harbour Air (Canada) on pioneering electric seaplane aviation, how the next generation of amphibious aircraft can support the sustainability imperative, infrastructure on water, and the how to meet and exceed expectations when it comes to customer experience.

Dennis Keller, our Seaplane Asia’s CEO participated in the panel on integrating amphibious aviation into the air transport network. Operators and OEMs discussed the opportunities and challenges. Dennis highlighted the importance of partnerships and being part of a wider ecosystem. At Seaplane Asia, we don’t see ourselves as a charter airline, but a premium lifestyle platform. This relies heavily on partners — whether hotels, or larger airlines. Our recent first airline partnership with the new Thai airline Really Cool Airlines further cements this. Yet, integrating with large and incumbent airlines, while oftentimes in their interest to diversify services and be able to serve the last mile efficiently, may come with challenges around interline agreements and legacy technology. 

Are seaplanes always just about time savers? We think no. It also is about the unique and memorable experience; the memory makers, as we call them. On top of that, Peter Manice, co-founder and EVP at Tailwind Air, that provides scheduled seaplane services between New York and Boston among other routes, emphasizes: “the second biggest value to our customers is reduced stress!” For example, waiting in security may take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes, and you won’t know until you’re there. This unpredictability, alongside the actual process itself, can become very stressful. Seaplanes take this stress away.

Seaplane services usually come at a premium price. They need to, due to increased operating cost for maintenance and otherwise. Yet, due to the time saving, unique experience and reduced stress, guests are willing to pay for such a premium. “Price per seat mile for seaplanes is 2-3x compared to regular aviation — that’s why it’s valuable” says James Labouchere, CEO of Ocean Aircraft, a new OEM envisioning a new type of amphibious aircraft.

Wouter du Preez, co-founder at Greenstar Aviation Partners states: “We are living in a very exciting space where innovation, technology and sustainability is driving a big future for us. When thinking about seaplanes what is obvious to the market, to the operators and also the financiers is that there are a variety of use cases to finance. It is not just the commercial side and the existing routes. There are even new untapped markets that don’t exist today.”

The conference saw attendance of a multitude of new OEMs, all envisioning their own best version of what new amphibious aircraft should look like. From Elfly to Ocean, Jekta, Mallard and Tidal Flight… Fabrice Mouton, our Chief Technical Officer at Seaplane Asia summarizes succinctly: “we see a new community emerging that confirms the potential for widespread commercial seaplane operations. The upcoming and new aircraft technologies will make this new era of aviation even more fascinating as well as sustainable.”

So, what does it take to be a part of this new era of aviation? “Money, time and craziness” — almost a mantra, repeated several times by various conference speakers and participants. Yet, none of what we are doing is unproven. Rather, the clear opposite emerges clearer every day. 

Seaplane and amphibious aviation is shifting from niche to normal. We’re proud and excited to be at the forefront of this development.


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