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Seaplanes for Suffolk?

What I'd love to see in Harwich/Felixstowe area is a seaplane port. Yes, seaplanes, like there used to be. It's madness going an hour in the wrong direction to Norwich or Stansted to catch a plane when a short hop over the channel would take you to Schipol or other airports. There's been some studies into their feasibility and they found amphibious aircraft would work just as well here as they do in the USA, Canada, Maldives etc. but with the great advantage you don't need expensive land for runways (where planes fly over houses) but can use something that we've got an abundance of: open water in unihabited areas. The money a seaplane port would bring could be used to preserve and protect the coastline as well as create jobs. I make the proposal here:


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Nick W
What a lovely idea.  I do suspect, however, that with the size of the Port and the sheer volume of ships in and out, there wouldn't be anywhere where that could happen safely.

I suspect also that sea conditions would all too often be prohibitive for a reliable public service.

Not being a Jonah at all Nat; just looking at practicalities.

But I love your idea.  We need more people with new and exciting ideas who are prepared to table them.

Sightseeing trips from the end of the new peir by boat could bean attraction though.
Nat Bocking
The proof is that in climates and conditions similar to the UK, seaplanes already work profitably. Seaplanes have slightly more weather restrictions than wheeled craft but we are talking amphibious service. They can take off in choppy water. Also, they land in the middle of Seattle or Vancouver, both busy ports, and many recreational boating areas coexist happily with seaplanes, so they could land on the Orwell, Deben, Stour or wherever. Some of the designs that Dornier etc. have on the drawing board have a much better operation envelope than current aircraft and will be quieter, faster, safer and more efficient. It would be a huge bonus to the port. The problem is we don't have any experience of operating seaplanes here so the CAA and other bodies suck their teeth and put down roadblocks no other country does.
Elizabeth A
What a brilliant idea.
Pete By The Sea
Such a cool idea.

I live over the border down near Clacton, and there are so many people travel from that area to Felixstowe - be nice to see a high speed water taxi service.

I know there is the Harwich foot ferry, but by the time I've driven to Harwich, I could be in Felixstowe!

Clacton Pier to Felixstowe Pier, stopping off in Harwich on the way....course if it's in Clacton, someone would steal it probably! Still a bit bitter!
Pete By The Sea
Nat - very pleasant reading your blog. A nice read.
Mike F
Fantastic idea! Of course, they can only carry a handful of passengers, and the elf n safety brigade would be salivating at the prospect of preventing/closing such a service, but it must appeal to true romantics. One can dream....
Christopher B
I hope somebody warns the many hundreds of yotties using the proposed water ways.   Who would have the right of way, a yacht under sail or a seaplane under power travelling at 100mph, or what ever?   Power should give way to sail.   I just hope such a seaplane would carry enough fuel to keep it airbourne while it circles waiting for a clear stretch of water to allow it to land without killing people.

Apart from that small detail an excellent idea!
Tim S inactive
I really like the water taxi idea, and always have! I think someone could do quite well with something from Ipswich/Felixstowe/Harwich, but there are problems at all points except Harwich - that's the one that has an all-states of the tide landing point, and no apparent parking problems.
Ipswich might not too bad, but of course there's a 6kt speed limit for most the Orwell - so a 2-hout commute each way would be painful!
Felixstowe would be a nightmare- there's only the beach to land on, and a long journey to get anywhere from there, unless PoF allowed landing inside their property - no chance, really.
Nat Bocking
seaplanes and boaters share the same water in thousands of places across the world. It is standard practise for a seaplane to circle the marked landing area before final approach. Given the drag once the floats touch down, it's also a very short landing distance. The problem is people (good naturedly) see problems in seaplane operation when they have no experience of actually using them.  Felixstowe was the UK's centre of seaplane research and development 1914-1945.
Strikes me as a brilliant idea. I can understand why the local authorities would want to keep their heads down given the pressures on funding etc. Shame about Ms Coffey, but I would have thought Messrs Jenkin (Harwich) and Gummer (Ipswich) might be more supportive. Have you tried getting the local Chambers of Commerce interested?
I imagine it would have to be down to a private enterprise to get the ball rolling, and maybe the local Chambers would have some ideas about who might be interested.
Well done for raising the issue - what you've done so far is great. You've clearly got some support from this site! If you need help - shout.
Nat Bocking
I have tried everywhere I can think of with anyone who has the power to shape local or national transport policy but if it's only me writing to them, they can easily ignore me. If lots of people wrote to their MPs to say look at this idea and give it some support, then we might get some movement. There are plenty of investors interested in the UK seaplane market but until the Govt. shows some commitment to clear some idiotic policies and various legislative hurdles, they won't invest in the UK ot EU but will do so elsewhere. It's not about wanting shortcuts on safety or anything, just that no one's going to invest millions with the risk that the Govt. will shut them down because the aviation or maritime authorities doesn't understand the industry and how it operates, which by the way, has an excellent safety record.
Mike F
Where's the romance in hovercraft?! They would probably cause more disruption to the shipping lanes than a plane, also.
Nat Bocking
Can't see hovercraft having many advantages in the scenarios I envisage for seaplanes. They have their place but the infrastructure they need negates their benefits in this location. You can see from the slideshow amphibious aircraft can be maintained in not much more than a boatyard. The romance of seaplane flight is a good draw for sightseeing flights which can be operated along with a scheduled service linking the Ipswich area to international airports and offering business travellers faster connections to London and the continent and greener and cheaper alternatives to helicopters.
Nat Bocking
BTW  a seaplane service with a hub in Felixstowe could serve Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth too
Jonny A
once/if they build the new pier , chances are boats and even seaplanes might tie up at its tip .
Tom C inactive
The seaplane idea sounds pretty good, but would it generate enough use? Would enough folk come to Felixstowe to use it ? In many conversations I have had over the years , it has also been mooted that an Orwell type bridge, or a tunnel would also be another way of linking suffolk to major airports, still I suppose it's only a pipe dream, and the cost would be extortionate .
Nat Bocking
Tom C The question is would people within 30 miles of Ipswich go to Felixstowe to catch a fight to an international airport and be cleared for take off to reach Asia, Australia, Canada,  USA and South America before anyone else even reached the car park of Norwich or Stansted (which have limited intercontinental flights)? Just as importantly, would companies, particularly energy ones, headquartered in London be prepared to cut their carbon and their costs by using seaplanes rather than helicopters to ferry engineers and other expensive assets from there to thier sites around the East Anglian coast?  I think they would. There's two main points in my proposition 1. The Govt. has got to signal their commitment to develop an amphibious aircraft industry (or at least not block it) in the UK and 2. Suffolk and particularly Felixstowe is well suited to be a centre for it.
Tim S inactive
It may be a wonderful and entertaining idea, but it's never going to happen! There's a huge investment in land-based aircraft, and the UK itself has a very considerable investment and interest in this. There is no UK industrial builder of floatplanes or flyingboats, and sadly these could never replace the helicopter in the North Sea maritime wind, oil and gas industries, essentially because they don't have any ability to deal with bad weather at sea - helicopters can land within a very wide weather window, but floatplanes can't . . 

A force 4 to  5 wind (classed as a fresh breeze) generates what is considered rough water for seaplanes and small amphibians, especially in open water like Harwich Harbour. Still air, resulting in glassy water conditions, can also be extremely dangerous as a landing condition. This morning in Harwich Harbour, where we were filming shipping movements, there were quite chunky seas running with a 17-20 knot breeze, and certainly floatplanes wouldn't be operating. In the open sea, the safe operating envelope would close at even lower windspeeds

Floatplanes and amphibians have an operating window that essentially opens at force one, and closes between force 4 to 5 - that's probably a lot of non-operating days on open water.

Floatplanes and amphibians seem to operate best in areas where there is no real infrastructure - so, the wilds of Canada, and the islands of the Caribbean and Pacific. If I lived in Ipswich, and had a choice of going from Ipswich Station to Great Yarmounth there'd be no contest - the train would have me in the centre of town for about £20.

The reality, I'm afraid, is that seaplanes of all sorts had their opportunity back in the 20s, 30s and 40s . . but no-one could keep them running when land based airports and larger aircraft came in, except in highly specialised environments where their unique attributes suited the transport needs of the area.
Nat Bocking
Tim S Thanks for feedback, you evidently know something about CA. Interesting you say that it won't happen because of land-based aviation interests. I didn't say amphibious would replace helicopters for servicing offshore installations, I do say that if you wanted to improve the speed of travel between London and Suffolk, especially for purposes connecting to international flights, then amphib should be considered.   Studies found that at present there are too many barriers for investors in small scale operations, for sayt ourism. If we want better air connections in this area, amphib operations are worth looking into. We haven't got the room or the will to build another land airport but given their incredibly low environmental impact, we could expand into water based operation.

You can quite easily drive from Seattle to Vancouver but because there is a seaplane service that takes one fifth of the time, there are people willing to use it. People of modest means (like myself) can afford it. To get from Ipswich to Holland or France, you have to take a day-long or overnight ferry or a long train journey. If you could get to Schipol from Ipswich faster than it takes to drive to LGW or LHR  I think people would welcome the choice.

Let them build it, they will come. But if they can't build it, nothing will happen. Amphib is not a universal panacea but in some places - as they have found in Eniskillen and the Scottish Highlands - seaplanes are viable in the UK and would be much better idea than dumping millions of tonnes of landfil into the Thames Estuary to create 'Boris Island'.
Mike F
I don't know much about this subject, but a quick search showed two companies in the UK making seaplanes, one of whom is Centaur Seaplanes, who according to their site are pioneering new designs with much improved performance.

I would have thought that initially at least the appeal would be not so much as a service but a tourist attraction. Speaking for myself I find flying today so off putting that I don't go abroad any more, and I doubt whether many enjoy the airport/flight part. Seaplanes could recapture the original charm and excitement of flying. Or is that naive?
Tim S inactive
I'm just a retired journalist, Nat, but your postings and thread got me, like Mike, to have a little look around and do a bit of reading. I also made a call to someone whose knowledge is much greater than mine!

I don't think that theres any future of this kind of short-hop aviation here or anywhere in the world that has a well-developed land-based infrastructure. The cost of flying in the UK, even where you have a clear straight-line distance advantage as in the Glasgow to Oban route, knocks out commercial viability. The operator involved there (Loch Lomond Seaplanes) is now happily doing leisure and pleasure aviation, and that does seem viable, but scheduled flights don't.

Mike's Centaur Seaplanes don't seem able to find funding in the UK, probably simply because there is no market, but have gained interest in Canada, where there is a definite market. Their aircraft, I must say, look smart and seem to work well - but the wave height yesterday actually within the open water of Harwich Harbour would have prevented operation for their larger (6 seat) plane, and without winter weather reliability, who is going to rely on such a service?
Nat Bocking
Tim, Mike, wouldn't it be nice if we had a leisure amphib service operating in Suffolk? There would be many benefits to the whole area. The proposal I sketched began with the tourism potential and is very much modelled on Loch Lomond and Eniskillen but there's also a bigger outcome for the UK in developing amphib infrastructure.

You state exactly the issue is the cost of flying. So what are those costs, what causes them? The evidence operators have given me says they are artificial barriers and not immoveable like the geography is. I have spoken with British pilots working for seaplane operators in the US, Canada, UK and Croatia who have advised me that it's mostly the the lack of national and local govt. will and their complex compliance conditions that don't exist elsewhere that are the barriers in the UK. Because of UK regulation, it costs millions to set up a small tourism operation which takes a brave investor indeed.
What would be nice is if the powers that be said they will encourage UK amphib investment and development. Then from a few little acorns the UK might be able to keep up with the rest of the world. Centaur's lack of market in the UK is because few can afford to operate here, and without a home market, they're at a disadvantage to their US and EU competitors. The current cost of seaplanes is partly due to using 50 year old technology but if there was a chance at a market, then those costs will come down with new technology.

There's also the problem that current operators have got bigger fish to fry. There's no point in them investing time and money on encouraging govt. to rethink policy when there no exclusive IP in it that they can bank on and it would just be opening the door for competitors too. Plus nobody wants  to be seen criticising the CAA. So it's left to the dreamers like me to ask the questions why? It would be marvellous if someone could actually cite a proper recent economic study that answered why it will or won't work. So far evidence is just hearsay. You will have seen that I've enquired about funding for such a study but encountered a byzantine bureaucracy.

Everyone who hasn't flown seaplanes says it won't work - there's some truth in that current technology is very expensive - yet we've never seen anybody try and fail so we really can't say that it won't. The operators I've talked to said there's no reason it can't work in principle (if they can use newer technology) and the FUSETRA study said it could work in UK conditions but for the lack of will of respective authorities. It's chicken and egg and we need some vision to break the logjam.
Tim S inactive
Good luck with it, then, Nat. I looked at it 'cos i thought it would make an interesting story for Felixstowe News - but perhaps you might get Richard Cornwell at the Evening Star to pick it up . . the Star likes stories that frighten the the nimbys!
Nat Bocking
Any local meeja is welcome to get in touch. What would be great is if everyone could write to their MPs, their councillors, the Minister for Aviation (presently Rt. Hon Theresa Villiers MP) and Dave Watson the Transport Strategy Manager at SCC asking them to appoint an appropriate agency to conduct a proper study into amphibious aircraft development in the UK and consider their potential in Suffolk.

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