17 December 2021

Lake seaplane services set for take-off after NCA gives thumbs up

| Ian Bushnell
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The first splashdown on Lake Burley Griffin in December 2020. Photos: Thomas Lucraft.

A seaplane service on Lake Burley Griffin is a step closer after the National Capital Authority came out in support of the proposal, despite most submissions being opposed.

But the NCA acknowledges the concerns of other lake users and will now hire a consultant to provide guidelines so they and seaplanes can share the waters safely.

The NCA has been talking to lake users and community groups since the Sydney Seaplanes demonstration flight a year ago, and has now published its report.

“This work resulted in the NCA concluding that, subject to all operational, safety, infrastructure issues and commercial matters being appropriately addressed and formalised, it will support the introduction of seaplane operations on the lake,” the report says.

“To advance this decision, the NCA wishes to work with the community and seaplane operators to achieve this outcome.”

The NCA says a working group will begin developing guidelines for shared use of the lake in February 2022.

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Sydney Seaplanes has proposed four daily services between Rose Bay and Canberra, two of which would land on and take off from the lake, tying up at the dock near the National Museum of Australia.

The test flight involved a 12-sear Cessna Caravan, but the company intends to use the bigger two-engine amphibious Twin Otter that can carry a maximum of 14 passengers.

South Coast Seaplanes is also interested in lake flights, first offering short scenic flights around Canberra, using single-engine Maule aircraft, but is looking to introduce packaged products, mainly targeted at international tourists, including direct connections with tourist attractions on the South Coast and in the Snowy Mountains.

The NCA received 107 submissions in response to its seaplanes Discussion Paper, from lake-based sporting clubs such as Dragon Boat ACT, Rowing ACT, Black Mountain Rowing Club, Canberra Yacht Club, ANU Sailing Club, YMCA Sailing Club, Canberra Grammar School, community groups such as the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians, Yarralumla Residents Association, Canberra Ornithologists Group, tourism and business entities, and members of the public.

Cessna Caravan

The Cessna Caravan tied up at the Yarralumla Bay dock.

Of the submissions, 72 did not support the proposal, 21 did, eight were neutral or mixed, and six were undecided and needed more information.

The NCA noted Riotact polling on the issue which found respondents were close to evenly divided on the issue, with supporters slightly ahead.

To the question, ‘Should we allow seaplanes to land on Lake Burley Griffin?’, the poll received a total of 833 responses – No, let’s keep the lake peaceful and quiet – 408 votes (49%), and Yes, it’s a fun idea that will enliven the lake – 425 votes (51%).

The NCA found that seaplane operations would enrich the appreciation of Canberra as the national capital and contribute to a diversification of the local economy, but further work was required to address the concerns of existing lake users.

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Interestingly, Sydney Seaplanes plans to convert to electric seaplanes by 2025, which could allay some of the environmental and noise concerns.

“The NCA is of the view that the potential impacts of seaplane operations on Lake Burley Griffin can be appropriately managed and that there are significant benefits in creating a unique travel tourism link to the nation’s capital,” the NCA says.

“Of critical note is how to address the potential conflicts between seaplanes and other lake users (both current and potential future users).”

Issues raised in the submissions ranged from safety, environmental and noise concerns to a precedent opening up the lake to more powered boats.

But lake businesses, the National Museum of Australia, where the seaplane would moor, the Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum and Chief Minister and Tourism Minister Andrew Barr backed the proposal, welcoming greater activation of the lake and believing that it would boost the local economy by providing opportunities to showcase the city and region.

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So the rich can use a sea plane on LBG but the average person is not allowed to operate a motorised boat on the same lake?

One rule for……….

There’s plenty of motorised boats on LBG daily?? Unless you want a jet boat?

ChrisinTurner2:02 pm 18 Dec 21

Have the concerns of the Yacht Clubs been addressed yet?

I didn’t realise the yacht club owned LBG?

Paddy Lou Hodgman5:22 pm 21 Dec 21

The yacht club doesn’t own the lake and has consistently supported a viable option for seaplane operations. Use of the central basin between the bridges is such an option but instead, the NCA prefers the busiest area of recreational use of the lake.

The fatal flaw in the seaplane proposal is that it would require exclusive landing and take off rights, necessarily requiring the exclusion and eviction of all other lake users from that area at certain times. This equates to private appropriation of a public resource. The NCA is the guardian of the lake, not the owner and should not allow private operators to determine and control public access. There are good reasons why seaplanes have not been allowed on LBG in the past and no good reasons why they should be allowed in the future.

ChrisinTurner1:59 pm 18 Dec 21

I don’t think you will find this happens on Sydney Harbour at Rose Bay where there are regular seaplane operations mixing in with ferries and other vessels.

Paddy Lou Hodgman5:25 pm 21 Dec 21

Yep, and Rose Bay where they operate has the room, not available on the proposed part of the lake, to allow sharing of the space. Seaplane operations on the central basin of the lake would work for everyone

If the ACT had a Liberal government and they brought this in, I wonder if our Greens would complain about the water pollution, noise pollution and the effect it has on other users of the lake.

The ACT Greens demonstrate they are just like most other parties, willing to sell their ideals if it helps them get power.

Why won’t the Greens use their unlimited local government powers to stop a Federal Government entity making planning decisions?

Stephen Saunders4:42 am 18 Dec 21

I think it’s kind of Charles Kingsford Smith and amusingly nostalgic, bring it on. Are seaplane-haters the same demographic as tram-haters? Sadly, it’s probably not for me personally, I get acutely airsick in smaller planes.

Jenny Graves2:29 pm 18 Dec 21

I suspect that they are the people who use the lake, such as the Dragon Boat racers, the sailing fraternity, windsurfers and canoeists. There are very good reasons why this shouldn’t be permitted to restrict people’s use. But it’s a case of the mighty dollar winning out yet again. Very sad!

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