29 June 2021

Seaplanes bid a tipping point for Canberra, say Lake Guardians

| Ian Bushnell
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Sydney Seaplanes Cessna

The Sydney Seaplanes Cessna Caravan test flight splashes down on Lake Burley Griffin last December. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Lake Burley Griffin could be changed forever if a seaplane service is allowed to operate on its waters, according to a heritage group.

The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians say in a submission to the National Capital Authority on its seaplanes discussion paper that such a service would set a precedent that would undermine the original intention of the lake.

The discussion paper canvasses proposals from Sydney Seaplanes and South Coast Seaplanes to run services to Canberra.

Sydney Seaplanes, which operated a test flight last December, is proposing 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 single-engine Cessna Caravan, but the company plans to use the bigger, two-engine amphibious Twin Otter operated by two pilots and carrying a maximum of 14 passengers.

READ MORE Seaplanes proposal may sink us, says Yacht Club

South Coast Seaplanes initially would offer short scenic flights around Canberra, using single-engine Maule aircraft, but look to introduce packaged products, particularly targeted at international tourists, including direct connections with tourist attractions on the South Coast and in the Snowy Mountains.

Flights would initially be limited to two a day, one or two days a week between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm in summer months, with reduced hours in the winter.

The Guardians say the national capital is at a tipping point, with a seaplane service possibly paving the way for other uses on the lake that would destroy the quietly beating heart of the city that former prime minister Sir Robert Menzies referred to.

“The idea of allowing seaplanes to operate on the Lake is not a single, self-contained proposal as the NCA implies,” the Guardians said.

“It may lead to a qualitative change in the uses and abuses of the Lake by many prospective users. Many of them potentially noisy and destructive, since it might be said that all other peaceful, harmless uses have already been allowed.”

Twin Otter plane

A Twin Otter aircraft of the type that Sydney Seaplanes would use. Photo: File.

They say approval of seaplane operations will inevitably lead to approval of water skiing and/or powerboat operations in the main basins of the Lake.

“The NCA could be open to legal challenge or political pressure should it try to prevent other noise and disturbance activities should combustion engine, powered seaplane operations become normalised.”

They fear that once small seaplanes are permitted, the operator is likely to press for larger, more powerful aircraft and an increase in flights to raise their return on investment.

The submission questions the value of a seaplane service to the ACT economy, saying that only a few interstate businesses and their rich clients, politicians and business commuters would benefit.

“We do not want to see the Lake turned into a runway for a wealthy few whilst detrimentally affecting water birds and other wildlife, and impinging on the amenity of many Canberrans and other Lake users who value the tranquillity of the Lake and its surroundings,” it said.

READ MORE Lake Burley Griffin seaplane proposal is worth looking at

The submission criticises the NCA’s discussion paper, saying it lacks detail on the actual proposal that goes far beyond the test flight using a smaller aircraft that “was not representative of the potential cumulative impact of two operators with more aircraft, one larger with more flights”.

“The proposals clearly will have a bigger impact in terms of aircraft size and frequency of wake, noise, general disturbance, and risk,” it says.

The Guardians say further studies would be required to assess the full environment and heritage impacts of the seaplane service, including increased turbidity, erosion of the lakeshore from wake waves, disturbance of bird and animal life, noise pollution and the potential for fuel spills.

They say there is potential for conflict with other lake users and the proposals raise safety issues, particularly for the Canberra Yacht Club and its younger sailors.

“We believe the NCA needs to give far more attention to how the operators would, in effect, safeguard other Lake users if the Lake is to be used as a runway, as some of the users might not be able to avoid conflict/interference with a faster-moving flying craft,” they say.

Submissions have now closed.

If the NCA decides to continue, it will conduct more consultation on the issues raised. Seaplane operators will be required to apply for a licence to operate on the Lake, any other permits and submit a Works Approval for infrastructure such as mooring.

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The seaplane company has been organising a flash mob of supporters to give the impression the people of Canberra have been craving their service. Why not lower the lake and build more apartments says one. The only seaplane that should be permitted on the lake is an entrant in the next Birdman Rally. Use Lake George instead.

David Mitchell4:55 pm 01 Jul 21

And while they’re at it, build a cable car from the National Botanical Gardens to the summit of Black Mountain.

So much for a green and zero emissions ACT.

A cable car would indeed be green and zero emission. Much cleaner than everyone driving their cars up Black Mountain.

Today’s CT has a story on how the Tower is an ‘embarrassment’ and needs millions spent on it. Good luck getting anyone on that cable car to the ‘syringe’ of decay.

Capital Retro10:53 am 03 Jul 21

But by 2030 there will be only emission free cars so what’s the point.

Capital Retro1:47 pm 03 Jul 21

Canberra’s next site for “urban renewal”?

Capital Retro8:06 am 04 Jul 21

Actually, a funicular railway (they are powered by people and water so totally emission free) between the Botanical Gardens and Black Mountain with stops where the many trails intersect would be unique and a great tourist attraction.

I recall funicular railways at Hong Kong, Lyon and Bergamo which were very popular with tourists and locals alike.

Capital Retro11:07 am 04 Jul 21

One also features in an Italian opera.

If the ACT Govt wants to encourage more people to visit Canberra from Sydney why not make the train service more frequent and faster – its already fairly cheap. If sea planes are allowed to use the lake the long standing ban on motorised traffic on the lake will be gone and there will surely be pressure to allow speed boats, jet skis and who knows what else. Landing seal planes on the lake is just a gimmick to attract a few big spenders.

What a great idea!! Properly regulated, with appropriate penalties for not operating this type of business in the best interests of Canberrans (as determined by their elected representatives) this could be yet another tourism asset for the Territory.

James-T-Kirk3:40 pm 30 Jun 21

These so called guardians don’t speak for me. Nobody here in this office have ever heard of them. Do they have public meetings? Do they have a constitution? Are they real, or just a couple of people with a cool title?

years ago, I knew one of the drivers behind the save the ridge campaign. He and his family were so proud of the delays they caused the GDE project. I was saddened that they never got the actual legal bill when their case was ultimately thrown out of court. We – the public of the ACT paid over and over for this issue motivated group.

Let the sea planes operate – They know how to do it safely.

And while we are at it, let the motor boats operate – it might reduce the amount of blue-green algae that the lake is suffocated with.

ChrisinTurner1:49 pm 30 Jun 21

The Guardians are doing a wonderful but probably fruitless Job because they are not major donors to the pollies.

I’m going to form my own group and call it the “LBG Super Executive Guardians” and then claim we have exclusive rights on discussing anything to do with the lake.

Honestly, the amount of news coverage this group gets is ridiculous, when in reality it’s just a tiny number of self appointed NIMBY’s who don’t like any form of change around a man made lake that’s less than 60 years old.

Completely agree Chewy – the air time they get is ridiculous – especially when its been shown some of the key figures involved don’t even live in Canberra either.

The self appointed Guardians of the Lake, and the self appointed Guardians of the Memorial, and the self appointed Guardians of the Galaxy, sound like they are all the same group of unelected NIMBYs.

Capital Retro9:46 am 30 Jun 21

As long as the government charges the operators landing/takeoff fees and docking (parking) fees at the same rate as the Canberra Airport does I don’t have a problem with it.

Maybe down the track a carbon tax to offset the exhaust emissions should be applied.

And how many members do the Guardians speak on behalf of?

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