3 December 2014 – Copyright © David Eyre
Seaplane trial on Swan River
Catalina Airlines Mack McCormack, an ex-SAS trooper and WA Entrepreneur of the Year, believes that his seaplane business could be a boost for tourism. The airline wants to fly passengers to Rottnest, the Abrolhos islands (off Geraldton), Mandurah, Margaret River region (Busselton) and other sightseeing, diving and snorkelling destinations, and the idea is to save tourists from having to drive hours to get there.
In preparation for commercial operations, Catalina Airlines conducted a test flight to and from the Swan River today, using Cessna 208 Caravan amphibious floatplane VH-OPH . Today’s flight was the first since the seaplane operations area had marker buoys added. Catalina Adventures owner Mack McCormack was aboard and the aircraft was flown by an experienced former Qantas pilot, Lynden Williams. A previous test flight had been conducted on 18 October 2013.
A support boat checked the landing area for marine and bird life and other watercraft before take-off and landing, and advised the pilot by radio that it was clear.
VH-OPH departed Jandakot Airport and landed on the river in perfect conditions at 9:26am. Checks were made to ensure that the support boat had adequate clearance below the wing and support strut of the aircraft. Pilot Lynden Williams then had to get back into the air to meet air traffic slot times and the aircraft started up again and took off at 9:59am. It flew to Rottnest Island Airport (on land) before later returning to Jandakot.
The site allocated on the Swan River for the seaplane operations is in an area marked with buoys, running in an east-west direction on Melville Water west of Mill Point Road, South Perth. It is sandwiched between the south side of the South Perth PWC Freestyling Area (jet-ski area), and north side of Milyu Marine Park and Nature Reserve.
The test flight followed two years of battling to obtain approvals from various regulators, including the CASA, the Swan River Trust, Department of Transport, Department of Parks and Wildlife, Department of Environment Regulation, Department of Aboriginal Affairs, City of Perth and others.
See our photos of Catalina Airlines flight from the Swan River, using Cessna 208 Caravan amphibious floatplane VH-OPH
Red Tape and Green Tape
In 2012, Mack McCormack applied to operate seaplanes from the sheltered South Perth side of the river, opposite Perth city. Earlier commercial seaplane operations had been based there in the 1980s.
However, local Liberal MP John McGrath opposed the location, concerned about potential collisions with amateur yachts. Mr McGrath suggested a site near the Old Swan Brewery on the Crawley side of the Narrows, so plans were changed accordingly.
The Swan River Trust were concerned about the aircraft hitting dolphins and seabirds, so they asked the airline to do environmental studies, but there had been no recorded aircraft/dolphin collisions anywhere in the world. By December 2012, the Swan River Trust wrote to Mr McCormack, stating that there were “no major issues” with the planned operations.
In October 2013, a year after the original application was lodged, the Trust ordered Mr McCormack to reapply for permission to land seaplanes on the river, because the proposed landing site had been shifted from east to west of the Narrows Bridge and regulators would need to assess the “new” location.
Before approving a test flight on the river, the Trust wanted a separate application and data on seaplane noise. The first test flight landed on the river on 18 October 2013, and regulators measured noise levels, which were 12 decibels below those recommended by the then Department of Environment and Conservation. In late November 2013, the Trust gave conditional approval to commence a 12-month trial of commercial seaplane operations, but required Catalina Airlines to submit additional operational information details and obtain approvals from all other relevant authorities before flights start.
Mr Cormack says that the slow and bureaucratic approval process has delayed his operation by two years and cost him millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Commercial operations approvals
Approval has been granted for a 12-month trial period, using an 11-passenger Cessna 208 Caravan seaplane for a maximum of eight flights per day (16 movements), between 8am and 5.30pm seven days a week. Catalina Adventures intend to start the 12-month trial from February 2015, subject to final approval from CASA.
Following the 12-month trial, the Swan River Trust will assess the environmental and community impacts of the operation before making any decisions on the long-term use of the river by commercial seaplanes. The Swan River Trust may consider extending the seaplane trial by another six months, to allow for the operation to run over two peak periods, if continuation of the trial will not impact on the community, wildlife or waterway.
The Swan River Trust stated that “The proximity of the seaplane landing area to Milyu Marine Park and Nature Reserve was one of the major considerations for the Trust, as this area has been set aside as a refuge for migratory wading birds protected under international agreements.”
“In an effort to protect birdlife, the seaplanes and support vessel are not permitted to enter the Milyu Marine Park and an exclusion/ no fly zone has been established 300 metres from the shore to minimise shadowing and disturbance of birds in the area.
“Restricting the seaplanes from flying close to the Como foreshore will also greatly reduce any noise impacts on nearby residences.”
In order to generate the most lift and shorten the take-off or landing run, aircraft usually fly against the wind. However, under the conditions imposed by the regulators, the aircraft must land from west to east (from the centre of Melville Water towards South Perth), and take off in the opposite direction. This may cause difficulties if wind conditions are unfavourable. The aircraft will be required to divert to Jandakot and bus the passengers to Barrack Street Jetty.
In accordance with conditions imposed by the Swan River Trust, the aircraft moors at a yellow buoy more than 300 metres offshore, with a boat carrying passengers between the aircraft and shore. The seaplane cannot be left moored on the river overnight and must be washed down, refuelled and maintained at Jandakot or Perth Airports.
If the conditions of approval are breached or the seaplane operations impact upon wildlife, the operation may be cancelled immediately.
Planned destinations for the seaplane
- Rottnest Snorkelling – 12 minutes flight from Perth
- Sightseeing Flight – From Perth down the Swan River, over Fremantle and Rottnest and back again. 30 minutes round trip
- Diving Safari – HMAS Swan / Cape Dive (Cape Naturaliste)
- Margaret River
Update on Grumman G-111 Albatross VH-NMO
Mack McCormack advised AAWA that Grumman Albatross will fly to Tocumwal on the NSW/Victoria border in February or March 2015, to have its 100-hourly maintenance work completed, before returning to Jandakot.
Mr McCormack would like to be able to use the 24-seat Albatross on the Swan River seaplane operation, but approval has only been granted for the smaller Cessna Caravan seaplane.
As the Albatross is a larger aircraft with different noise characteristics, it would require a review of the approval conditions, and it would also and be required to be moored further away from the shore.
AAWA wishes to thank Catalina Airlines for kindly providing access to photograph the trial flight.