Cape Air chief executive Dan Wolf is as close as he’s ever been to bringing seaplane service to Boston Harbor.
But can Wolf stick the landing? To complete his seven-year quest, he’ll first need to convince the Boston Planning & Development Agency that the four round-trip flights a day between Boston and New York he has planned won’t interfere with the heavy boat traffic around Long Wharf. The planes would take off and land by Logan Airport, on a stretch of water that runs parallel to a runway. They would taxi to Long Wharf to pick up and drop off passengers.
Pivoting to Long Wharf hasn’t eliminated the opposition, though.
Boston Harbor Cruises general manager Alison Nolan sent a letter to the BPDA on Dec. 23, objecting to seaplanes at the wharf. Both sides of Long Wharf are teeming with boat traffic, with vessels coming and going every few minutes on busy summer days. Nolan, whose company relies heavily on Long Wharf, refers to it as “the busiest public passenger pier in New England.” It could get even busier, if still-nascent plans to add more ferry service come to fruition. Her message to the BPDA: Send Cape Air back to the South Boston Waterfront.
Then, on Tuesday, attorney David Lurie sent a letter to the city agency, criticizing the Long Wharf plan. (Lurie, who was writing as a concerned neighbor, owns an office condo across Atlantic Avenue from Long Wharf.)
The lawyer proved to be a formidable foe to the ill-fated IndyCar race that was once on a fast track for the Seaport, when he helped a neighborhood group put the brakes on that event in 2016. Among Lurie’s beefs with Cape Air: noise, pollution, the use of a “public watersheet” for a service aimed at catering to the rich.
This last complaint seems to irk Wolf the most. As a Democratic state senator representing much of Cape Cod for six years, Wolf championed plenty of progressive causes at the State House. (He stepped down three years ago.)
Wolf sees this as a sought-after transportation option: planes that can whisk up to nine passengers from here to Manhattan in just over an hour. That compares to three hours-plus via commercial airplanes or Amtrak. Wolf hopes to make the cost comparable to walk-up fare for the New York shuttle flights at Logan — in the $400 range.
Wolf said he has tried to be meticulous about meeting with neighborhood groups along the inner harbor over the years, to be as open as possible about the venture. (The Wharf District Council, a neighborhood association whose area includes Long Wharf, submitted one of the first letters of support of this site back in October.) He said he plans to ensure the seaplanes are compatible with all existing harbor uses, including the Long Wharf ferries. He said the planes, as they approach the docks, would be quieter than some motorboats in the harbor, and that test flights over the water generated no complaints last year.
Wolf said Cape Air has the federal approvals it needs, and could start flights as soon as March — as long as he has somewhere to dock.
But first, the BPDA. The planes would dock at Waterboat Marina, which leases its space from the city agency. A change in the marina’s license to accommodate seaplanes needs city approval.
The BPDA board could take this issue up as soon as February. A spokeswoman said the agency is currently reviewing the public comments it received and is determining whether seaplanes at Long Wharf could co-exist with the existing marine services there, particularly the ferries. Cape Air has agreed to seek approval for a one-year trial run of scheduled seaplane service, to get started.
Wolf said he only wants to bring the service to Boston if the public wants it. Cape Air already runs seaplane service between the 23rd Street docks in Manhattan and the Hamptons, a service the company picked up when it acquired a Connecticut seaplane operator roughly a year ago. With that investment, Cape Air now owns a total of four seaplanes and manages seven others.
Wolf never expected this kind of turbulence when he set off on this long flight, back when Tom Menino was still mayor. Maybe this licensed pilot can finally take his venture out of its years-long holding pattern.