Cape Air CEO Dan Wolf’s dream of bringing seaplane service to Boston Harbor is running into some turbulence: He still needs to stick the landing in South Boston.
Cape Air has held more than 100 meetings with government agencies and community groups over the past several years, with the goal of launching a Manhattan-Boston seaplane service to compete with the New York shuttles out of Logan Airport. Wolf wants to whisk commuters to East 23 rd Street from the South Boston Waterfront in just over an hour. No long lines at the airport. No bridge and tunnel traffic.
Wolf is investing, building his amphibious squadron by buying a Connecticut seaplane operator and a nine-passenger Cessna. He wants to start two daily flights out of Boston this summer.
But Cape Air’s tour hit a snag on Tuesday, when two of its managers made their pitch to the City Point Neighborhood Association in South Boston. The reception? Not quite as frosty as that ill-fated proposal to turn Castle Island into a Halloween theme park. But it certainly wasn’t warmly received, either.
Ed Flynn, the neighborhood’s city councilor, later issued a statement raising public safety concerns about the flights. Cape Air had visited East Boston and Cambridge — but until now, not Southie.
David Biele, the neighborhood’s 's state representative, called it unacceptable for Cape Air to engage his community at this late stage after it had already received Federal Aviation Administration approval for seaplane service. The neighborhood, he says, has numerous unanswered questions.
Perhaps the biggest one: Where to land?
A seaplane dock is being floated for a proposed marina at Pier 4, where the old Anthony's restaurant used to be. But the marina needs Boston Planning & Development Agency approval. It’s hard to imagine that getting done in time for summer — formal plans haven’t even been submitted. One option: a temporary dock in the harbor until a permanent home could be built. A temporary dock may need only the harbormaster’s blessing, a much simpler process than engaging the BPDA.
That option took Joe Rogers of the Fort Point Neighborhood Association by surprise. Rogers says he realized the proposed Pier 4 marina would probably include a seaplane dock. But he didn’t expect the seaplanes to arrive before the marina plans were submitted to City Hall, let alone publicly vetted.
A former state senator, Wolf understands the importance of building consensus. He says he wants to get South Boston on board with his vision. That could include talking about job training opportunities, or flights for neighborhood kids. The flight patterns have been deliberately designed to minimize noise over residential areas, he says, with the Seaport’s shiny new towers acting as a sound buffer.
One thing he doesn’t want: a repeat of the helipad situation.
South Boston residents have long resisted helicopters on the waterfront. That sore topic emerged again after General Electric’s move to Fort Point. A helipad was among the promises made to persuade GE to leave Connecticut. Eventually, the idea was jettisoned amid the outcry.
Wolf vows this won’t be like a helipad. The planes won’t fly at night, and they’re much quieter than choppers.
Speaking for the City Point group, Jim Coveno says residents seemed more annoyed by the fact that they’ve only now been approached about the discussion than by anything else. Noise concerns persist. And there’s the broader frustration about waterfront development, with legions of new commuters driving through City Point to jobs in those shiny glass towers.
One sign in Wolf’s favor: Cape Air has run many test seaplane flights in the harbor this spring without causing any ruckus.
Wolf isn’t done politicking. He has been on the campaign trail before and knows the importance of winning over as many people as possible.