Seaplanes bid a tipping point for Canberra, say Lake Guardians

Ian Bushnell 29 June 2021 111
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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111 Responses to Seaplanes bid a tipping point for Canberra, say Lake Guardians
Geoff Roberts Geoff Roberts 7:35 pm 04 Jul 21

Great idea. Bring it on.

William Lord William Lord 11:11 pm 03 Jul 21

Haven't these people got anything better to do with their time? The planes will land (quietly) take off (noisily) and go away. This is nothing like powerboats roaring around the lake and a semi-trailer roaring around the roads that skirt the lake will make more noise! I despair! How stupid are some people. The lake is not a "heritage" place, it is an aberration, an artificial stretch of water (puny and nondescript if you are honest) and it's use by sea planes is just one of many uses that could be controlled and ADD to the attraction of Canberra.

Acton Acton 3:52 pm 03 Jul 21

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.

Reece Mccusker Reece Mccusker 12:38 pm 03 Jul 21

Ahhhh the boring state....

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 11:26 pm 02 Jul 21

Personally speaking, I just do not see what all the fuss is about. LBG is just a drain that catches all the sediment and toxins from surrounding suburbia. I would lower Scrivener Dam to be no more than a weir and freeing up a lot of space for additional apartments and other tourist attractions such as a permanent home for Floriade.

But the above won't happen, so why not try the sea plane service until it becomes unviable and closes down so that in 20 years time next gen can complain about nothing happening on LBG.

    Warwick Bradly Warwick Bradly 8:07 am 03 Jul 21

    Bill Gemmell Not sure if you are being serious. LBG and surrounds are part of what makes Canberra the great city it is. A huge number of Canberrans regularly enjoy the peace and nature in their walks around the lake. The open spaces are part of the beauty of this city. Paving everything and then building shoddy apartment towers over it all is not the answer.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 1:36 pm 03 Jul 21

    Warwick Bradly but the government's revenue model requires continuous development. So I am serious.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:03 pm 02 Jul 21
David Mitchell David Mitchell 4:55 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.

    nickwest nickwest 2:05 am 03 Jul 21

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

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:53 am 03 Jul 21

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

    Ol L Ol L 10:31 am 03 Jul 21

    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 Retro Capital Retro 1:47 pm 03 Jul 21

    Canberra’s next site for “urban renewal”?

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:06 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 Retro Capital Retro 11:07 am 04 Jul 21

    One also features in an Italian opera.

Chris Ward Chris Ward 12:28 pm 01 Jul 21

Seriously, this is a great proposal and aviation in all forms is highly regulated by people who understand aeroplanes.

    Grant Read Grant Read 8:02 am 02 Jul 21

    Chris Ward Sea planes are awsome. Love watching them land in Moruya river and Narooma. How could anybody be againt them in Lake Burley Griffin.

    Tim Adams Tim Adams 9:13 am 02 Jul 21

    Grant Read because they’re noisy, it will involve shutting off parts of the lake that are currently used by yachties, rowers and Scouts. Because of the potential for environmental damage and fuel leaks.

    Matthew James Matthew James 10:00 am 02 Jul 21

    Tim Adams Are you worried some spilled fuel might kill some endangered blue-green algae?

    Grant Read Grant Read 8:29 pm 02 Jul 21

    Tim Adams Mate we have had them here for years no dramas at all and as far as noise goes you'd be lucky to hear em. Not as loud as you might think and we don't close the river for them. As far as fuel leaks go... well that just doesn't happen mate. They are pretty good at keeping fuel in the tanks these days. I would like to suggest mabye give em a trial run and see how it goes. They are pretty nice to watch. Just a thought.

Ken Meaney Ken Meaney 10:50 am 01 Jul 21

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.

Joe Seph Joe Seph 7:58 am 01 Jul 21

It’s an artificial lake so let’s look at the history shall we

Luke Morfoot Luke Morfoot 1:03 am 01 Jul 21

Haydn Richardson feel like this will bring the locals out of their shells.

Jp Romano Jp Romano 12:50 am 01 Jul 21

This group is literally a handful of people half of which don’t live in the ACT. it’s an absolute joke.

Jp Romano Jp Romano 12:49 am 01 Jul 21

Sick of these nimbies stopping progression in this town.


An ex-nimby.

Rod Phillips Rod Phillips 9:24 pm 30 Jun 21

This is a great initiative for the lake and Canberra. How exciting to see this introduced. I for one can't wait to take a flight. If as the Guardians say, this leads to other activities like water skiing or other powered boating then all the better. A bit of action on the like might even help reduce the algae blooms each year. I'm sure a respectful balance between the lakes formal and ceremonial uses and these new uses is easily achievable.

    Helen Brinsmead Helen Brinsmead 9:31 am 02 Jul 21

    Rod Phillips there's already lots of action on the lake with three sailing clubs, their school holiday programs, a large sea scout group, all the rowing clubs, the dragon boaters and outrigger canoes. There's the triathletes and fishing folk too.

Judith White Judith White 9:23 pm 30 Jun 21

I enjoy watching aeroplanes take off and land at the airport. I would love to be able to watch this on the lake. The lake is often a very boring place to watch.

    Tim Adams Tim Adams 9:12 am 02 Jul 21

    Judith White I’m sure that’s what the Griffins were going for when they designed the city: a lake that’s not boring to watch.

    Helen Brinsmead Helen Brinsmead 9:33 am 02 Jul 21

    Judith White you haven't seen the regattas? The joy in the kids learning to sail in the school holiday programs or sea scout nights? You haven't been birdwatching to see the change in migratory birds over the seasons?

    Judith White Judith White 9:56 am 02 Jul 21

    Helen Brinsmead Yes Helen, I have seen those things. But how about a bit more....???

    Helen Brinsmead Helen Brinsmead 9:57 am 02 Jul 21

    Judith White the sea planes with noise, wash and risk of fuel contamination won't help any of those things.

    Jenni 'Gabrielle' McInnes Jenni 'Gabrielle' McInnes 10:11 am 02 Jul 21

    Judith boring to you is restful to most. If you want to see exciting go to the airport or go watch the rollerderby.

    Judith White Judith White 11:59 am 02 Jul 21

    Helen Brinsmead There wouldn't be many. Very low risk of fuel contamination from planes.... I mean, how many planes do you think would be landing there ?

    Judith White Judith White 11:59 am 02 Jul 21

    Jenni 'Gabrielle' McInnes Yawn....

    Helen Brinsmead Helen Brinsmead 12:01 pm 02 Jul 21

    Judith White the articles have mention three or four a day on weekends. On the sailing courses.

    Jenni 'Gabrielle' McInnes Jenni 'Gabrielle' McInnes 12:59 pm 02 Jul 21

    Exactly. Restful.

RocketRodd RocketRodd 9:19 pm 30 Jun 21

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.

Annil Singh Annil Singh 8:59 pm 30 Jun 21

they either ran out of things to complain about... or teabags... maybe both.

Paul Mathews Paul Mathews 8:47 pm 30 Jun 21

neighbours BARKING dog wont like it. me too

    Laura Frame Laura Frame 9:48 pm 30 Jun 21

    Paul Mathews you can get a muzzle.. ?

    Paul Mathews Paul Mathews 8:59 am 01 Jul 21

    Laura Frame sure get a muzzle, u pay for it u put it on

    Tim Adams Tim Adams 9:11 am 02 Jul 21

    Laura Frame a muzzle won’t stop it barking?

Jason Oneill Jason Oneill 8:44 pm 30 Jun 21

Another bunch of retired NIMBYs out to spoil everyone’s fun and keep Canberra as their own personal retirement village…

Mark Whithear Mark Whithear 7:59 pm 30 Jun 21

The lake guardians are anti fun campaigners. I swim & paddle in the lake most of the year but the ‘guardians’ just sit in their lounge rooms saying No!

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