Coming soon: Speedier Boston-to-Manhattan trips via seaplane?

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Two aviation companies want to shave an hour or more off the trip from Boston to New York. But first they need to find a dock they can use on Boston Harbor.

Cape Air CEO Dan Wolf says that he’d like to start flying seaplanes “within the next two years.” His Hyannis-based airline recently began supporting the operations of a seaplane route from Miami to the Bahamas to gain experience in operating the craft.

Wolf says that the trip from Boston’s waterfront to a seaplane dock on the East River in Manhattan would take about an hour and fifteen minutes, eliminating the travel by taxi or car to and from the airport in each city, not to mention lengthy security lines. “We’d like to start by doing four trips a day in each direction,” Wolf says, using a single-engine Cessna Caravan that seats nine passengers.

Wolf says that Cape Air’s ideal scenario would be to find a dock in Boston that would be walking distance from the Financial District. He says there are “a lot of options along the waterfront,” but that “this is really in the exploratory stage right now. We’ve talked to the city and private property owners. We’ve had preliminary discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration, and we’re setting up meetings with the Coast Guard. A lot of entities have to be at the table to discuss whether it’s feasible.”

Cape Air isn’t the only player vying to bring seaplane service to Boston Harbor; a charter operator called Tailwind last year began flying from Boston’s Logan Airport to Manhattan’s seaplane dock. This summer, it is operating three round-trips a week between Hanscom Field in Bedford and Manhattan, but Tailwind director of new business Michael Ritzi says the company is having discussions with private property owners this month about finding a dock they can use on the harbor. Ritzi says harbor-to-river service “might begin this year,” and says Tailwind’s service would be seasonal, running from early March to early November. Wolf says Cape Air’s service would be year-round, but with fewer flights over the winter. (Ice on New York’s East River can be a constraint to takeoffs and landings there.)

Wolf says that Boston has had seaplanes operating from its harbor in the past, and that “a lot of cities around the world have this component to their waterfront — Vancouver, Seattle, Sydney, and even New York.” But Wolf, a Massachusetts state senator who represents Cape Cod and the islands, says that “this is not something that is a fait accompli. We want to make sure it’s compatible with the users of Boston Harbor and the waterfront,” and that boats and seaplanes can co-exist safely. Wolf says that today, seaplanes do land and take off in the harbor “on an ad hoc basis.”

Wolf describes himself as “an experienced seaplane pilot” who, in the 1980s, taught others how to fly the craft at Chatham Municipal Airport on the Cape. He says that the relationship with the operator of the Miami-to-Bimini, Bahamas, route is “an opportunity for us to learn the business, and go through the regulatory process with the FAA,” which must eventually give Cape Air the OK to operate seaplanes, in the form of an additional operating certificate.

As for Tailwind seeking to also fly from the harbor, Wolf says, “I certainly support competition.”

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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