Boston-NYC seaplane service is landlocked
No harbor space for landings proves to be knotty problem
A new seaplane shuttle service is launching between New York and Boston this summer, but is missing a key ingredient: water
Aimed at business travelers, Tailwind Air Service will run the nine-passenger aircraft out of a seaplane dock on the East River in Manhattan, but in Boston will use a terminal at Logan Airport until it can find somewhere in the harbor to touch down and take off.
"It will be like a seaplane ferry, going from waterfront to waterfront," said Alan Ram, the chairman of the New York City-based Tailwind.
Ram said he has yet to figure out where his planes might land on Boston's waters, but has begun talking to marinas in the harbor about docking space. His goal is to have a water landing secured by next year.
Narrow in many places, the inner harbor in Boston is often busy with barge traffic and commuter ferries, commercial and recreational boaters, day sailors, and paddlers. Even veterans of the city's maritime commerce are flummoxed by the seaplane proposal.
"I've never heard of anything like that," said Vivien Li, the longtime president of the Boston Harbor Association, an advocacy group. "Landing in Boston Harbor is complicated, because we have barges. We have large tankers. We have recreational boaters. I think there would have to be various reviews."
Indeed Tailwind will need permission from multiple agencies that oversee traffic on Boston's waterways. City officials and the US Coast Guard would probably have some involvement in approving the service. The US Coast Guard did not return calls for comment.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority, the city's economic development agency, would be concerned about potential conflicts with existing maritime traffic and noise levels, said spokesman Nick Martin.
The Federal Aviation Administration would also need to approve the seaplane's route and its landing base, to ensure those flights don't conflict with other planes flying in and out of Logan, an agency spokesman said. The FAA has not received a request from Tailwind yet for the harbor-to-harbor operation.
For now, Ram said Tailwind is focused on developing a customer base for the New York/Boston route first, and flying in and out of Logan will work for the time being, especially because the city's airport is so close to downtown.
The flights take around 90 minutes each way, and the company is taking requests for reservations on its website. Company officials said they expect to operate one flight out of New York City in the morning and return flights from Boston in the evening.
Tailwind has one plane of its own, and will enlist two other aircraft from Fly the Whale, which runs seaplane service to tony vacation spots such as the Hamptons and Nantucket.
Such convenience will come at a cost: from $450 to $650 for a one-way ticket.
Tailwind will initially pitch its Boston service, along with a new route to Washington, D.C., to travelers who use Fly the Whale for weekend retreats to the Hamptons, Nantucket, and the Caribbean. The vacation flights take off from New York's seaplane base, and the amphibious Cessna Caravan has a fridge stocked with beer and champagne.
A Fly the Whale regular, Tim Higgins, a recruiter in the hedge fund industry who lives in New York City, said he travels to Boston frequently by train and plane. A seaplane landing in the harbor, he said, would cut his normal travel time by more than half. "It's simple," said Higgins, and "worth every penny."
Ram pointed to similar seaplane service operating successfully in Seattle and Vancouver as reason to expect the Boston flights will catch on.
Ram has been involved in more quixotic ventures, such as working on airships, or robotic blimps that carry surveillance equipment for government agencies.
"I've worked on somewhat unusual things," Ram said.