At first, some may have thought a seaplane service on Lake Burley Griffin was another pie in the sky idea like the Black Mountain or Mount Stromlo gondolas that seem to have been around forever but have never been able to get off the ground.
Sydney Seaplanes first floated the idea back in 2007 but this time it’s different – with a National Capital Authority board keen for more creative use of the Lake, a government nursing an economy back to health as the COVID-19 crisis subsides, and the company itself looking to expand after 15 years in business.
The company has also had input from Canberra Airport, itself recovering from a catastrophic loss of business due to the COVID restrictions and pursuing a strategy of securing routes with smaller regional airlines as the bigger carriers rebuild their services.
While there may have been initial mirth and the usual groans when anything is suggested for the Lake, it should be taken as a serious proposition that would bring visitors directly into the centre of Canberra where our great national institutions are to be found.
It will also provide another transport option for those travelling to Sydney who want to avoid Sydney Airport and don’t want to take the Hume.
Next Tuesday there will be a demonstration flight that will give the NCA, which will need to give the proposal the tick of approval, an idea of how it would work, and what impact it may have on the Lake as well as other Lake users (although it should be noted that the test flight will be a 10-seater Cessna, not a large plane).
Obviously, the environmental and heritage aspects also need to be understood and protected. The last thing anybody wants is a fuel spill.
Some will argue that allowing a commercial operation such as this in effect privatises the air space above and the waters where it splashes down and motors to a dock near the National Museum of Australia.
But for the time a seaplane will actually be on the water – about five minutes according to the company – it will have less impact than a regular ferry service.
Sydney Seaplanes has been operating out of Rose Bay on Sydney Harbour for 15 years and argues it is used to sensitive environments and negotiating a flotilla of crafts of all kinds on the busiest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere.
Some might also fear that giving the seaplane venture the go-ahead might open the floodgates to a range of motorised activity on the Lake that would disturb its character and make it more exposed to potential pollution.
But the NCA says this is a one-off and the proposal deserves a fair hearing.
The company’s managing director and co-owner Aaron Shaw admits Qantas won’t be shaking in its boots, and the initial traffic of about 30-45 passengers a day will not be large but it will generate more interest in the national capital, have flow-on effects on the economy and provide a service that will not be out of the reach of most Canberrans.
It’s probably more viable than a gondola.