The National Capital Authority (NCA) may have signed off on seaplanes using the westernmost side of Lake Burley Griffin as a runway but it’s hardly a done deal after meeting with more than 70 lake user groups, including the Canberra Yacht Club (CYC).
The CYC was founded in 1959 on the Yarralumla shoreline, several years before the lake was even filled. General manager Steve Hart said CYC has been “very supportive” of local seaplane operations as another attraction for Canberra, but “not where it puts us out of business”.
“This is how the proposal has been written and announced – it’s in a place we know puts us out of operation immediately,” he said.
Five years worth of talks between the NCA and Sydney Seaplanes bore fruit earlier last week with a plan for four flights a day to and from the area of lake between the Acton and Black Mountain peninsulas, beginning during the first half of 2023. Passengers will disembark at a new pontoon near the National Museum of Australia.
During a series of workshops with the NCA on Wednesday (16 November), regular users of the lake – from dragon boaters and canoeists to triathletes and sailing clubs – pleaded with the NCA to move the operation into the Central Basin.
Steve says up to 70 per cent of CYC’s revenue comes through their sailing school. From 9 am to 5 pm, five days a week during school holidays, instructors take to the West Basin in boats to teach up to 70 children the basics of sailing.
Sailboat racing events are held each Wednesday and Sunday for members. Then there are the regular social-inclusion programs, including ‘Sailability’ for people with a disability and ‘Buoyed Up’ for disadvantaged youth.
“We have a lot going on in that bit of water and not all of those programs would be affected, but if we lose the sailing school, we lose all of those subsidised programs we’ve worked so hard to build up,” Steve said.
“The seaplanes are a lovely idea, but we’re pushing really hard for it to take place in the Central Basin.”
The NCA ruled out the Central Basin for take-offs and landings due to its place in the ‘Parliament House Vista’, based on a heritage and environment assessment from 2016. At the time, Singapore Airlines was investigating flights to Canberra and contacted South Coast Seaplanes about possible connecting flights to Moruya.
NCA chief executive officer Sally Barnes said NCA initially deemed it “not a good idea” based on advice they received from the Department of Infrastructure.
“They didn’t think it was very safe to land seaplanes between the two bridges because motorists might be distracted by it.”
During the workshops, Ms Barnes committed to retest this.
“I’ll go back, look at what was done, what the conclusions were, and what they were based on.”
The seaplane owners will also spend the first half of December meeting with each of the lake-user groups and finding out more about their operations. The results will be presented to the NCA by 14 December.
Ms Barnes said communication between NCA and the lake-user groups had suffered over COVID, but promised better going forward.
“For a while, we didn’t really have much to say – and we weren’t sure the operators would even stay in business – but there was a bit of a gap in our communication.”
She said the meeting may have started with pent-up frustrations, but by the time everyone left the room, “we were much more positive about how we could work together, as well as realising the benefits that having something new on the lake brings and the interest it creates for the city”.
“As well as realising the benefits that having something new on the lake brings and the interest it creates for the city.”