Catalina Airlines’ Cessna 208 Caravan seaplane VH-OPH could be operating from Perth’s Swan River from early 2014

VH-OPH Cessna 208 Caravan floatplane (MSN 20800157) of Catalina Airlines at Jandakot Airport – Sun 27 October 2013.
VH-OPH Cessna 208 Caravan floatplane (MSN 20800157) of Catalina Airlines at Jandakot Airport – Sun 27 October 2013.
Built in 1989, ex N9733F, VH-PSR, ZK-REZ, N501TA, N501P.
Catalina Airlines was formed by former SAS instructor Mack McCormack. The company provides scenic and adventure tours in Perth (from Jandakot and Rottnest) and the Kimberley Region (operating from Broome). They also own the last Grumman Albatross built, VH-NMO.
Photo © David Eyre
VH-NMO Grumman G-111 Albatross (cn G-464) of Catalina Airlines Pty Ltd at Jandakot Airport – Mon 3 June 2013
VH-NMO Grumman G-111 Albatross (cn G-464) of Catalina Airlines Pty Ltd at Jandakot Airport – Mon 3 June 2013
This was the last Grumman Albatross built. A total of 418 Grumman Albatross aircraft were built between 1947 and 1961.
It was built as a military Grumman UF-2 under the Military Aid Program (MAP), as the last of six ordered for the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). For contractual purposes, it was allocated US Navy serial number 148329. It was delivered to the JMSDF on 5 May 1961, and allocated the JMSDF serial number 9056 – it also wore the US Navy serial 148329 on the rear fuselage. After 1962, it was re-designated as a Grumman HU-16D Albatross. See photo of the aircraft with the JMSDF in 1976: http://www.gonavy.jp/bbs1/img/2770.jpg
In the late 1970s/early 1980s, Grumman bought 57 ex-military Albatrosses for conversion to civil G-111 Albatross configuration, certified to conduct airline and charter operations. Around 1980, 9056/148329 was sold and registered N88999 – see 1980s photo: http://www.gonavy.jp/bbs1/img/2831.jpg .
In 1981, it was rebuilt by Grumman as a civilian G-111 Albatross, at a cost of US$1.2 million. Although Grumman thought that there was a market for 200 G-111s, only 13 were converted – 12 for Resorts International and one (this aircraft) for Conoco Oil/ Pelita Air Service. It can seat 23 but is certified to carry up to 28 people.
The aircraft was registered in Indonesia as PK-PAM with Pelita Air Service, flying on behalf of the Conoco oil company. It was based in Singapore, and used in support of offshore drilling in a 28-seat configuration.
On 6 March 1992, the aircraft was registered N26PR to Paragon Ranch, Broomfield, Colorado. By 1996, N26PR was owned by Mirabella Yachts Inc, Palm Beach, Florida – Sep 1996 photo: http://www.abpic.co.uk/photo/1064553/
On 8 December 1997, Mirabella Yachts reregistered the aircraft as N42MY. It was based at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Florida and at Fort Pierce Airport, Florida. Here is a 2003 photo: http://www.airliners.net/photo/Grumman-G-111-Albatross/0457395/L/&sid=aac86aa3f09e8f84dbe6e378e17e8e90
On 21 January 2009, N42MY was registered to Sherman Aircraft Sales and advertised for sale – initially at $995,000, and later at US$795,000, based at West Palm Beach Airport, Florida, with a total of 4,433 flying hours.
In March 2012, N42MY was acquired by Australian businessman Mack McCormack, but registered to the Bank of Utah as trustee. It was flown to Salt Lake City, Utah, for inspections and repainting. It then flew to North County Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida and on 25 March 2012, it flew to the Port of Palm Beach at Lake Worth Inlet to be loaded onto the ship MV Suomigracht for transport to Australia. Photos of N42MY being loaded aboard: http://www.superyacht-australia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Sevenstar.png ).
It was shipped to Newcastle, NSW, arriving on 20 April 2012, and was flown to Newcastle Airport. On 23 April 2012, the aircraft flew from Bankstown to Sydney Harbour, where it landed and water-taxied past the Opera House to the former flying boat base at Rose Bay, before taking off again and returning to Bankstown.
On 25-26 April 2012, it flew across to Perth Airport. On 27 April 2012, N42MY took off from Perth Airport, flew along the Swan River, and ten minutes later landed and took off in Matilda Bay. Matilda Bay was once the base for US Navy and RAAF Catalina flying boats during World War Two. N42MY then flew to Rottnest Island and landed in Thompson Bay, then took off and flew to RAAF Base Pearce.
Mr McCormack planned to base the Albatross in Broome and use the aircraft to fly tourist and charter flights in and around the Kimberley region of Western Australia, including the Horizontal Waterfalls, Montgomery Reef, Prince Region and off the coast at Rowley Shoals.
In February 2013, it was reported in the Geraldton Guardian newspaper that Catalina Airlines was to begin flying boat flights departing from Perth’s Swan River to the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Geraldton commencing from April 2013. Costing was estimated to be around A$1000 per person, and operations were to be expanded into the Kimberley region later. The aircraft conducted some promotional flights from Geraldton to the Abrolhos Islands in February. However, since then the aircraft has been parked at Jandakot Airport.
On 16 April 2013, it was registered as VH-NMO to Catalina Airlines Pty Ltd.
Photos and history © David Eyre

2 December 2013 © David Eyre

Catalina Airlines is edging closer to its ambition of commencing seaplane operations from the Swan River in Perth, after obtaining more of the necessary regulatory approvals.

Seaplane operations have been part of Perth’s aviation history since the 1920s. During World War Two, Qantas flew Consolidated Catalina seaplanes from Crawley Bay to Sri Lanka, to break the Japanese blockade of Australia.

Later, a number of other operators have tried to make seaplane operations on the river viable. In the late 1980s, a Lake Buccaneer seaplane operated from a jetty near Sir James Mitchell Park in South Perth. Repacholi Aviation also acquired a Cessna 206 floatplane with plans to operate from the river, but the operation never started and the aircraft remained moored on the Canning River near Mount Pleasant, until it was sold.

In March 2012, Catalina Airlines, founded by former SAS mountaineering and Arctic survival warfare instructor Mack McCormack, acquired N42MY, a 22-seat Grumman G-111 Albatross amphibian seaplane (the last Albatross produced). The aircraft was shipped to Newcastle from Florida, USA in April 2012 and then flown to Perth. Upon arriving in Perth on 27 April 2012, N42MY took off from Perth Airport, landed and took off from the water at Matilda Bay, and in Thomson Bay at Rottnest Island and later to Jandakot Airport. At the time the aircraft was acquired, the plan was for the aircraft to be based in Broome and used to fly tourist and charter flights in and around the Kimberley region of Western Australia, including the Horizontal Waterfalls, Montgomery Reef, Prince Region and off the coast at Rowley Shoals. However, nothing eventuated and the aircraft remained parked at Jandakot.

In February 2013, N42MY flew from Jandakot to Geraldton and conducted some promotional flights from Geraldton to the Abrolhos Islands, and it was reported in the Geraldton Guardian newspaper that Catalina Airlines was to begin seaplane flights departing from Perth’s Swan River on daily fishing and snorkelling trips to the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Geraldton, commencing from April 2013. Flight time from Perth to the Abrolhos Islands is 80 minutes. Costing was estimated to be around A$1000 per person, and operations were to be expanded into the Kimberley region later. After the February 2013 flights, the Albatross returned to Jandakot and was parked again, and on 16 April 2013, N42MY was registered as VH-NMO to Catalina Airlines Pty Ltd.

In April 2013, Catalina Airlines also acquired a Cessna 208 Caravan floatplane, VH-OPH, which is also parked at Jandakot.

In August 2013, the airline obtained an initial Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) acceptance certificate and the airline is now awaiting final CASA approval.

An application to operate from the Swan River at South Perth (east of the Narrows Bridge) was lodged with the Swan River Trust (soon to be absorbed into the new Department of Parks and Wildlife) in 2012, but during the consultation phase, South Perth Liberal MP John McGrath suggested that the operation instead operate from the river at a site near the old Swan Brewery, west of the Narrows Bridge. The airline complied, but in October 2013, the Swan River Trust ordered Catalina Airlines to reapply for permission to land seaplanes on the river. This was because the proposed landing site had been shifted, which was a significant amendment to the initial application, and the various agencies involved had to be re-consulted about the new location. The Swan River Trust also asked for more information on seaplane noise before approving a training run in mid-October 2013, and the training flight also required a separate application. Mack McCormack threatened legal action after nearly two years of waiting for the Trust to approve his original application, stating that the delays had potentially cost him $4 million in turnover and put at risk what he considers to be a major WA tourism attraction.

The Trust commented that it had received a number of similar applications in the past, each one refused due to “amenity and conflict with other river and foreshore activities”. Mr McCormack noted that other states also allow floatplane operations.

Approval for 12-month trial

Finally, at the end of November 2013, the Catalina Airlines was granted approval by the Swan River Trust to operate a 12-month trial using the 11-passenger Cessna 208 Caravan floatplane, flying twice daily, seven days a week between 8am and 5.30pm from the Swan River to Rottnest Island, Mandurah and Margaret River. Other planned seaplane routes include weekend flights through Mandurah to Dunsborough, so that scuba divers could access the sunken HMAS Perth. Subject to approval from Mandurah Council, the airline would like to fly between Mandurah and Rottnest Island.

The trial was only approved after Mr McCormack changed his application from landings near South Perth foreshore, and replaced his larger Grumman Albatross with the Cessna 208 Caravan seaplane on the services.

The seaplane will operate from a base on the Swan River near the Mill Point Road turnoff from the Kwinana Freeway, taking off and landing between the South Perth jet-ski freestyle area and the Milyu Marine Park and Nature Reserve (opposite Royal Perth Golf Course). The approval was given subject to a number of strict conditions, including an exclusion zone covering the Milyu Marine Park and an area up to 300 metres from the Como foreshore. The exclusion zone is to protect migratory wading birds and to reduce noise impacts on people living nearby, and the seaplane and its support vessel are not permitted to enter the area.

The trust will be inviting public comment on the seaplane operation throughout the trial period. Following the 12-month trial, an environmental and community impact assessment will be undertaken to determine whether the trial will be permitted to continue for an additional six months. If it is found that the aircraft operations are causing an impact, the trial will cease. The trial is important as it will inform decisions on the future use of the river by commercial seaplanes.

Final approval from CASA and the WA Department of Transport is yet to be received, but the airline hopes to start operating joy flights in early-2014.

Mr McCormack hopes to still use the Albatross for Abrolhos Island flights, but for the time being, the aircraft will remain parked at Jandakot Airport.

David Eyre

President, Aviation Association of WA Inc

8 thoughts on “Catalina Airlines’ Cessna 208 Caravan seaplane VH-OPH could be operating from Perth’s Swan River from early 2014

  • December 2, 2013 at 9:18 pm
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    Awesome! Where can I book?

    Reply
  • February 14, 2014 at 1:37 pm
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    Beautiful planes (especially the Albatross)! I know many in Perth can easily afford the estimated $1000 per person for taking off from the Swan River but I will have to save up for that amount. Wonder what the estimated time is for commencing flights from the Swan River?

    Reply
    • February 17, 2014 at 11:21 am
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      Hi Nina,
      “Early 2014” is all that has been mentioned, and the Catalina Adventures website does not provide any information on a start date.
      Regards,
      David Eyre

      Reply
  • November 24, 2014 at 1:51 pm
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    hi . i am an avid amature photographer that would love to take a pic of seaplane landing on the water. would this be at all possible as i find this a very exciting opportunity. i’d love to hear back from u soon with any information

    kind regards.

    Greg. Claydon..

    Reply
    • November 25, 2014 at 8:27 pm
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      Hi Greg,
      Have sent you an email.
      We have contacted Catalina Adventures to request an update on their seaplane operations.
      Regards,
      David Eyre

      Reply
  • February 25, 2015 at 9:48 pm
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    Dear David,

    My Dad Robert [ 21 squadron Brewster Buffalos Malaya and Singapore] ] flew Catalinas at the end of WW2 repatriating injured servicemen to Sydney. He said the flights were gruelling. I have long dreamed Perth could have a fully functioning flying Catalina base at Matilda Bay both as a homage to his generation and as a truly world class tourist attraction and have written to many politicians over the years. Is this idea a pipedream? I am aware PBY’s are now rare but not impossible to obtain.

    I envisage a voluntary not for profit run living museum such as restored steam locomotive railways operate involving people with all sorts of backgrounds and talent. I have heard of the struggles of several seaplane applicants and the attitude of CASA and the Swan River trust. Other states seem much more “can do” that us and that should change.

    It seems to be that retiring baby boomers such as me would love to be involved in such a project, and would be willing to put in some capital. However I have no idea as to how to publicize and recruit for such a project. Should government be approached first to ascertain CASA’s position ? Should an interested parties group be formed first?

    How would you approach it?

    Kindest regards

    Geoff KIRKMAN

    Reply
    • February 27, 2015 at 6:11 am
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      Hi Geoff,
      An attempt to preserve a Catalina near the former seaplane base at Crawley/Matilda Bay was made some years ago by the Australian American Catalina Memorial Foundation. They acquired a Catalina (Bu No 46624) from the US in 2002.
      It was intended for it to feature in a display somewhere near the Matilda Bay Restaurant, commemorating the “Double Sunrise” flights from the Swan River at Crawley to Sri Lanka during World War II.
      They failed to get funding, so in January 2007 it was moved in parts to the RAAF Association’s Aviation Heritage Museum at Bull Creek and reassembled. It is still on display there, in pristine condition.
      Regards,
      David Eyre

      Reply

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