Europe’s first city-centre seaplane service, connecting Glasgow to the west coast of Scotland, took off on its maiden flight on Monday. Enthusiasts say it could spark a revival in commercial seaplane operations, more than 50 years after their popularity waned.
The new craft moored in the heart of the city will taxi down the Clyde three times a day bound for Oban. The Glasgow service, operated by Loch Lomond Seaplanes, could be joined by others.
The company, which already operates charter flights from Loch Lomond, plans to add a regular seaplane connection between Glasgow and Skye and a service between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
David West, managing director of Loch Lomond Seaplanes, said: “When you compare it to going through Heathrow, it’s a million miles away from that. The seaplane puts back the joy, the love and the fun of travel, including the romance.”
AirSea Lines, a Greek seaplane operator, is also looking at launching a summer service from Leith on the Firth of Forth and is considering operations connecting London with the Lake District and Wales.
In Northern Ireland the Amphibious Flying Club, based in Enniskillen, said it wanted to start a commercial seaplane service next year.
Passengers leaving Glasgow for the west coast will be able to walk straight on to the aircraft and reach Oban in 24 minutes. The same journey would take 2 ½ hours by car and 3 ½ hours by train. A return flight will cost about £150 and the seaplanes will initially carry a maximum of nine people.
Mr West, who used to fly Airbus A340s to Hong Kong, admitted that starting a seaplane service had been a struggle. “It’s very hard reintroducing them as the regulatory bodies had lost the skills to deal with them [seaplanes],” he said.
When a seaplane is on water it comes under the jurisdiction of the port and waterway authorities, but once in the air it comes under the Civil Aviation Authority.
In the 1930s and 1940s the flying boats of Imperial Airways, later the British Overseas Airways Corporation, carried passengers to far flung parts of the British Empire in style. But when the last BOAC service to Africa left Southampton in November 1950 the golden era of seaplanes came to an end.
Although they are still common in some Australian and North American cities – including Seattle and Vancouver – they fell out of favour when concrete runways and commercial airports became the norm after the second world war.
The Clyde was once the beating heart of seaplane construction and during the war about 3,000 Short Sunderland flying boats were built there.
Scott Taylor, the chief executive of Glasgow City marketing bureau, said seaplanes were a very interesting alternative for any city wanting to establish a small local airport.
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