For the first time in the history of Lake Burley Griffin, a seaplane has splashed down on its glassy surface, possibly opening the door to a new era for Canberra’s natural centrepiece.
Crowds lined the lake shores today (15 December) to greet the inaugural Sydney Seaplanes flight, albeit a demonstration one, which skimmed on to the water with the ease of one of the many waterbirds that call the lake home.
Sydney Seaplanes is proposing four daily services between Rose Bay and Canberra, two of which would land on the lake and tie up at the dock near the National Museum of Australia.
Today the Cessna Caravan motored to Yarralumla Bay where its passengers could alight and meet locals and the media.
For co-owner and managing director Aaron Shaw the flight, this time from Bankstown due to bad weather, and landing were spectacular, particularly the touch down on the lake.
”It was a real moment for me personally and the pilots on the plane – to experience that was quite exhilarating,” he told Region Media. ”It was very smooth; you could barely feel it touch down.”
The National Capital Authority had authorised the proof-of-concept flight as a first step in its examination of whether the service is feasible and will not impact the lake environmentally or from a heritage perspective, as well as not interfere with other lake users.
NCA chief executive Sally Barnes and ACT Senator Zed Seselja were there to meet passengers and crew, and she said the flight clearly showed that a plane could land on the lake.
She said the event was considered a board meeting and members were also on hand to observe the arrival, along with noise monitors and heritage experts.
A thorough consultation will begin in the new year, followed by a report going to the board around the middle of 2021, ”then [we can] finalise the licence and an agreement and, hopefully, it will be wheels up”, she said.
”But we need to do it properly and we need to listen to everyone and their concerns, and as we work through the processes, we can work out any wrinkles and be alive to any interests and make sure we work around them.”
She said other potential lake users would have to be looked at case by case.
“This is a great potential service. We’ll look at other things but we’re very careful and very methodical because the lake is such an important part of the city,” she said.
”We need the lake to be the heart of the city, we need the heart to pump but we definitely don’t want the heart to pass out from overuse.”
Mr Shaw said the hour-long service would slash about an hour and a half from the usual travel time from Sydney Airport to Canberra Airport, taking passengers to and from the centres of the respective cities and avoiding traffic and boarding queues.
He said the Bankstown departure showed the plane’s versatility, being able to operate from land or water.
A plane will be based at Canberra Airport, flying the first service of the day to Rose Bay, with lake services mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and a final service of the day back to Canberra Airport.
Mr Shaw said the service was pitched mainly at business and government travel, but the company was also looking at tourism packaging opportunities with the national capital’s festivals and events.
”We really want to bring people to the heart of the action,” he said.
Mr Shaw has said previously that the service required minimal infrastructure such as a pontoon for disembarking and a refuelling trailer from the Airport.
He said the company would fulfil whatever security arrangements are required by CASA and the Department of Infrastructure.
The company was hopeful of having the service up and running by the second half of 2021.