16 November 2022

Seaplanes are go for Lake Burley Griffin

| James Coleman
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seaplane at Yarralumla Bay dock

A Cessna seaplane tied up at the Yarralumla Bay dock during the December 2020 trial. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Seaplanes will be landing and taking off from Lake Burley Griffin in the first half of 2023 after the National Capital Authority (NCA) opened up the West Basin of the lake for flights to and from Sydney and the South Coast.

As often as four times a day, seven days a week, Sydney Seaplanes will take up to 14 passengers from Rose Bay in Sydney at 9 am and 2:30 pm, and from Canberra at 10:30 am and 4 pm, at a cost of about $300 each way.

South Coast Seaplanes promise four passengers a scenic joy ride from Moruya Airport, with times and flight paths still to be confirmed.

Flights leaving before 10 am and landing after 3:30 pm will use Canberra Airport. The planes will be stored overnight on the airport tarmac and refuelled by the lake’s shore with a tanker truck.

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Passengers will disembark at a new 18-metre-long floating pontoon on the eastern side of the Acton Peninsula, near the National Museum of Australia.

It’s been a long journey to this point for the NCA, which was first approached by Sydney Seaplanes in 2017 with a proposal for commuter services. Heritage and environmental assessments were undertaken in the years leading up to a proposed 2021 start date, with a trial run in December 2020.

NCA chief executive officer Sally Barnes discussing seaplanes in December 2020. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

CEO Sally Barnes said the project was then set back by COVID-19.

“We didn’t know if Canberra would have a tourism industry afterwards or even if these seaplane businesses would still be in operation,” she said.

Since then, Lake Burley Griffin and the adjacent lands were included on the Commonwealth Heritage list in 2022, so the project hangs on Commonwealth approval, but the NCA doesn’t expect any pushback.

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The proposal has also met criticism over the years from users of the lake, particularly the non-profit community group, Lake Burley Griffin Guardians.

Up to 70 different groups of lake users will meet with the NCA on Wednesday (16 November) to workshop all aspects of the seaplane proposal.

“We’re hoping they’ll roll their sleeves up with us and actually make it as good as it can be,” Ms Barnes said.

“We’re not consulting about whether we’re having [seaplanes] or not. This is about making them work. And if people are still concerned, we’ll go back and make adjustments. We’re still flexible.”

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Seaplanes on the Central Basin were never an option because of its place in the ‘Parliament House Vista’. With an average depth of two to four metres and surrounded by businesses and residential apartments, the East Basin was also ruled out early on.

The proposed flight paths include easterly and westerly routes, landing in West Basin.

The western approach is over Belconnen, across the Molonglo River and Weston Park in Yarralumla, past Black Mountain Peninsula, before coming to a stop within 100 to 300 metres of touchdown. The plane will ‘taxi’ slowly to the new pontoon.

The eastern approach has the plane coming over the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, over the East and Central Basins before landing near Springbank Island.

In terms of noise, previous tests by the ACT Environment Protection Agency found the flights, landings and take-offs remained under 100 decibels at all times.

Seaplane landing on Lake Burley Griffin

A seaplane landing in Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The lake-user groups will also offer feedback on a new ‘Lake User Safety Guide’ and seaplane licence. This outlines rules on the use of Lake Burley Griffin for seaplane operations, guidance on permits, agreements and approvals, and information on relevant legislation.

The workshop will be followed by another, more up-to-date heritage assessment before a final Lake User Guide is published and the docking infrastructure goes in.

The first flight will land within the next six months.

“We see Canberra as a place for all Australians,” Ms Barnes said.

“We see this as an additional way for people to access Canberra. The other thing we know is that people love being out and seeing things happening. I would say we get more complaints over not enough happening on the lake than we do about too much. People like colour and movement.”

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Sally Barnes the NCA CEO, was not sure if there would be a tourism industry after Covid 19?? A very thoughtless comment. Yes Sally, some people may like movement and colour but not smoke and mirrors.. Moving the paddle boats and kayaks out of West basin reduced colour and movement Time for you to move on.

C’mon Silly, it’s not for us.

Sir Q. Mozart-Sprong1:18 pm 18 Nov 22

At $300, cheaper than many Qantas options, and probably more reliable!

Ms Barnes of the NCA said “We’re not consulting about whether we’re having [seaplanes] or not.”
There were 107 public submissions on the 2021 seaplane discussion paper with the majority (about 3:1) strongly opposed for recreational, safety and environmental reasons. The minority in support were from business and hotel groups, inflated by a number of single line emails. Ms Barnes has favoured the interests of business and tourism lobby groups and arrogantly dismissed legitimate concerns and impassioned pleas from Canberra residents, clubs and individual lake users. The NCA has lost the plot.

Richard Thum4:48 pm 16 Nov 22

Not too concerned…well not until the first ‘incident’ when one or both floats get holed/damaged by the flotsam after each rain event.. Another reason perhaps for the authorities to get off their behinds and maintain our infrastructure..in a timely manner

This seems a great decision. Stir the lake up a bit, get it circulating to reduce some of the bacteria that forms in stagnant waters. And as for the recreational users and those non-profit community groups complaining! Not to mention the inappropriately named Lake Burley Griffin Guardians! The lake is large enough and a part of Canberra. It was designed for everyone’s use not just for the few. I hope it is a success for everyone involved in its development.

Capital Retro9:00 am 17 Nov 22

Aircraft use an air-screw. It will have no impact on the stagnant water.

Well CR I presume you mean the propellor? I don’t profess to be a specialist in aircrafts or their dynamics. However the aircraft in the picture above seems to be making a bit of a splash. Hopefully this new venture in introducing seaplanes to Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin is successful and makes a splash for the public and its owners.

Complete stupidity. Nobody wants the seaplane except the owners of the plane who are just burning more fossil fuel for the almighty dollar.

ChrisinTurner2:44 pm 16 Nov 22

Just a gimmick for the elite. The planes are capable of landing at the airport and will be stored there overnight. Pity about stopping sailing on the Lake.

It’d work much for boating, particularly sailors, if the seaplane operated on Central Basin. Arguments about heritage there are rubbish because the NCA plan involves low altitude landing approach and post takeoff flight ( but not landings and takeoff) right across their claimed ‘parliament vista’.

I don’t necessarily mind the idea – I do though feel for all rowers, kayakers and sailers that use this part of the lake heavily. But I don’t see how a small seaplane from Sydney is going to have significant economic impact for Canberra businesses or tourism. That’s a maximum of 28 Sydneysiders per day forking out $600 for a round strip and with day-trippers forking only hanging out for morning tea and lunch – including uber rides to get around, that’s maybe about $250 average spend per day day tripper. Sure, folks staying for a weekend will spend more, but we’re talking about ~$30k revenue a weekend.

An obvious question, but what happens when there are boats in the landing area as the seaplane approaches? Sailing boats, windsurfers, rowers, kayaks etc. Are they expected to now watch and listen for approaching aircraft and immediately vacate the area? What happens if they don’t or can’t?

That’d be much less of a problem if the seaplanes operate on Central Basin. The NCA’s questionable contracted heritage assessment, which they claim precludes this, doesn’t stack up and makes no assessment of the impact on the area, now on the heritage list, where the NCA wants the seaplanes to operate.

Meh, this is a gimmick, and will probably fold and disappear within a few months.

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