Flying boat to serve this fall

Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2004

A company that hopes to operate speedy seaplanes in Southeast Alaska this fall will hold a public meeting Thursday to address concerns about the new transportation method.

Pacific Seaflight, an Alaska-based company, will lease two "wing-in-ground-effect" vessels from ATS Leasing, an aircraft leasing company based in Florida. The crafts, which are considered sea and not air vehicles, travel six to eight feet above the water at speeds of up to 100 mph.

"Ours will be the first (wing-in-ground-effect vessels) in service in the United States," said Linus Romey, president of Pacific Seaflight.

An official with the U.S. Coast Guard, which would have to approve use of the vehicles, said it would be optimistic to predict a fall startup.

Romey hoped to introduce the new form of transportation to Southeast Alaska this spring, but manufacturing setbacks have delayed the start of operations until this fall, he said. The vessels have not been built.

Southeast Alaska makes for an ideal place to introduce the vehicles, as air travel is expensive and heavily weather-dependent, and travel by boat requires working around the ferry system's schedule, Romey said.

The vessels will travel between Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Hoonah, with the base operations taking place in Juneau. Though prices are not set, the hour-long trip between Juneau and Haines should cost $119 round-trip, Romey said.

The vessel would operate in 12-foot seas, can travel in limited visibility and avoids problems with turbulence by staying close to the water, said Romey, who learned to operate boats as a kid in Petersburg and was an aircraft technician in the U.S. Army.

Before the crafts can run in Southeast Alaska, they U.S. Coast Guard must certify them. Operators would have a master's certification from the Coast Guard, and would receive a type rating for their certificate after going through training for the vehicles, Romey said.

Though the technology for wing-in-ground-effect vessels has been in existence since World War II, getting certification to operate a vessel with passengers will be a time-consuming effort, said Lt. Bill Jeffries, chief of vessel inspections for the Coast Guard in Juneau.

"It's a novel craft, it's very fast and it flies 10 feet off the water," said Jeffries. "There are operational limitations on that type of craft."

Pacific Seaflight will have to present a detailed written proposal to the Coast Guard that shows where it intends to operate, proves sufficient structural integrity and outlines safety procedures, Jeffries said.

Until he sees a written proposal from Pacific Seaflight, Jeffries said he cannot estimate how long the approval process will take. In the past it has taken six months to five years to approve use of new vessels.

Romey will hold a meeting to address concerns from the public at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Juneau Assembly chambers. For more information on the vessels, visit www.pacificseaflight.com.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at christine.schmid@juneauempire.com.



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