Tailwind Air has won the race to bring commercial seaplane service to Boston Harbor.
The Rye Brook, N.Y.-based airline is launching ticket sales this week for flights to New York that begin on Aug. 3. It has taken more than five years for Tailwind to get this venture off the ground — or, more accurately, off the water. That’s how long Tailwind and rival Cape Air have been chasing permits, running test flights, and drumming up support among a somewhat skeptical public.
Tailwind received its final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration last week for the Boston-Manhattan flights. The company will start with two round trips a day, grow to four on Aug. 23, and continue them through the end of November. (They’ll start back up again in March.) Chief executive Alan Ram said the trips will take under 90 minutes from dock to dock, allowing passengers to avoid the tunnel and bridge traffic and long security lines that are standard headaches when traveling through the main airports in both cities.
Tailwind, which already operates seaplane service between Manhattan and three locations on Long Island, will fly amphibious Cessna Caravans on the Boston route, with space for the two pilots and up to eight passengers. One-way fares will range from $395 to $795, designed to be competitive with walk-up fares on the Boston-New York shuttles offered by American, Delta, and JetBlue.
The seaplane service is primarily geared toward business travelers, and Tailwind is offering discounted rates to corporate clients. Ram said his company seriously considered waiting until next year, when demand for Boston-New York service may be closer to the 1 million-plus tickets sold annually for flights between the two cities before the pandemic.
“That was a real consideration, especially given the limited season that remains, but we thought it was a good opportunity to test-run it,” Ram said. “We are seeing that there are a lot of people who are trying to reengage some face-to-face meetings, and there’s not a ton of options. The airlines are still operating at a reduced capacity.”
Passengers will board a water taxi at Fan Pier for a seven-minute ride to a floating dock attached to a mooring line near the East Boston shoreline, where they’ll board the planes. Ram said he is still working on landing a spot in the Seaport for the planes to dock but his preferred options are not ready yet. In Manhattan, the planes will take off and land at the Skyport seaplane terminal at East 23rd St., on the East River.
Ram said the water-taxi time in Boston doesn’t add much to the total travel time because the seaplanes would be taxiing to their runway area on the harbor regardless of where passengers board. Once in the air, the trip should take around one hour and 15 minutes, compared to roughly 45 minutes for the jets that fly in and out of Logan. But the seaplane’s logistical savings would more than make up for that lost time in the air, Ram said. Tickets can be purchased through Tailwind directly, or through Southern Airways Express, a codeshare partner of Tailwind’s.
Meanwhile, city officials are still waiting to hear from Cape Air. Dan Wolf, chief executive of the Hyannis-based airline, had hoped in early 2020 to use a privately run marina on city property near Long Wharf. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A spokeswoman for the Boston Planning & Development Agency said Cape Air was trying to find an appropriate place for refueling to occur, but the conversation has not picked up since the pandemic began. A Cape Air executive couldn’t be reached for comment. Both Cape Air and Tailwind first started test flights for this route in 2016.
Seaplanes buzzed Boston’s wharves in the 1930s and 1940s, but those flights likely ended sometime after World War II, a Cape Air executive has said. They’ve flourished in other cities in recent years, including in Miami, Seattle, and New York. Now, it could be Boston’s turn.
Alice Brown, chief of planning and policy at the nonprofit Boston Harbor Now, said she’s glad that Tailwind is steering clear of Long Wharf, a bustling area where most of the harbor ferries dock.
“It’s not taking away public access to the Harborwalk, and it’s not creating conflicts with other vessels,” said Brown, referring to the paved path along the city’s waterfront. “And it’s creating people who hopefully fall in love with the harbor every time they take off and land.”