Article written by Graeme Paton and originally appeared in The Times
They are a throwback to the golden age of air travel, long before passport control queues and boozy stag parties raised our collective blood pressure.
Traditional seaplanes are preparing to make a return to England’s skies and shores with ambitious plans for the first dedicated passenger service in at least 60 years.
An amphibious aircraft, capable of landing on water and conventional runways, is to be put to work on a regular route between airports in London and an island resort 20 minutes away off Essex.
In March 1926, British aviator Alan Cobham flew over Westminster in the final minutes of his epic 27,000 mile flight to Australia and back, bringing the traffic on Westminster Bridge to a halt. GETTY IMAGES.
Its backers hope that the venture, being launched later this year, will be a precursor to new direct services from the Thames itself to destinations throughout the UK.
The plan is being led by David West, managing director and chief pilot of Loch Lomond Seaplanes, which has run flights across the west coast of Scotland for the past decade.
He said that demand for seaplane travel was high among passengers tired of the factory-style approach to aviation taken by most airlines. They can also satisfy the modern traveller’s desire to reach destinations off the beaten track, it was claimed.
This has led to recent new seaplane services in countries including Croatia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, India and Vietnam.
“It’s is about taking people back to the romantic days of flying,” Mr West said. “You can turn up 15 minutes before your flight, park your car by the side of the water and get on board. This is the simplicity of it. The beauty of seaplanes is the lack of infrastructure that they need to operate. There’s none of the demands you find in a big airport that makes flying so unpleasant for a great many people. It is this wonderful experience rather than something you have to endure.”
Loch Lomond Seaplanes bills itself as Europe’s longest-running sea airline. It operates sightseeing tours on the west coast of Scotland and from next month will start scheduled services from Loch Lomond to Skye.
On March 28, 1910, the Hydravion was the first powered seaplane to take off and land successfully. Flown by Henri Fabre, its inventor, the aircraft travelled 1650ft over water near Marseilles. Nine years later, a US army seaplane became the first to fly the Atlantic
In 1923, the Channel Islands became home to the first successful flying-boat service, and the popularity of seaplanes soared during the 1930 and 40s. “Empire Boats” from Imperial Airways would cross the globe, complete with libraries and cocktail bars
Seaplanes were put to use in the Second World War but the increasing number of airports, and the range and speed of other aircraft, meant that their populariy declined rapidly. Seaplanes returned to the UK in 2004 when Loch Lomond Seaplanes began flying
Now it is also about to launch its first flights in England, in what is thought to be the first dedicated service south of the border since seaplanes largely died out in the mid-50s.
The new route will carry passengers between London and Osea, a private island in the Blackwater estuary that has become an exclusive resort and party and wedding venue. From the summer, two aircraft a day will land in the waters surrounding the 400-acre island. It is owned by the music producer Nigel Frieda and has attracted celebrities such as the actress Sienna Miller, the musician Johnny Borrell and Poppy Delevingne, the model.
Mr West, 58, a former Cathay Pacific captain, insisted that flights would not be reserved for the super-rich and tickets will be available to the public at around £89 each. They will link the resort to small airports in London and the home counties, including Biggin Hill, Farnborough, Denham and Wycombe.
It coincides with the company’s pending delivery of its second $3 million (£2 million) American-built Cessna 208 Caravan aircraft, capable of carrying ten people at up to 160mph.
Mr West said that the ultimate aim was to obtain permission from the Civil Aviation Authority and Port of London to run direct flights from the Thames to its Loch Lomond headquarters.
He said that seaplanes largely died out after the Second World War but added: “They’re coming back. The beauty of seaplanes is that you don’t need infrastructure. New technologies such as GPS mean that flights can be easily tracked using smartphone apps. This has brought seaplanes and flying boat operations in to the modern age as a viable mode of transport.”