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July 16th, 2008, 04:38 AM
Glory days of flying boats before Kai Tak runway opened
14 July 2008
South China Morning Post
Scheduled seaplane services were a vital fixture in Victoria Harbour for more than two decades starting from the 1930s, and some of the floatplanes flying between Hong Kong and Macau had a special mission - shuttling gold between the two colonies.
James Ng, an expert on Hong Kong's aviation history and a member of the Hong Kong Collectors Society, said the seaplane service was introduced when the Hong Kong Keeper, a plane owned by Pan American Airways, flew from Macau on April 28, 1937.
The seaplane picked up passengers in Macau who travelled on another Pan Am seaplane, China Keeper, from San Francisco to Manila via Macau. "Passengers who intended to travel to mainland China took other flights in Hong Kong after arriving in the city," Mr Ng said.
"Pan Am's seaplane flight was an American airline's first provision of a commercial flight service between Hong Kong, the United States and China," he said.
It took about an hour for a flight between Hong Kong and Macau.
Pan Am operated two flights every week until Japan's invasion in 1941.
Seaplanes were more common in the period because they required only a stretch of water for a runway.
"Seaplanes are part of the collective memory of Hong Kong and have a long and dynamic cultural history," said Michael Agopsowicz, who plans to reintroduce the seaplane service to Macau.
Macao Air Transport Company (Matco), which was set up by entrepreneurs Sydney de Kantzow and Roy Farrell in the late 1940s, transported gold and a few passengers between the two cities until the early 1960s. The pair were also founders of Cathay Pacific.
According to the Cathay Pacific website, Catalina seaplanes were brought into service with the airline in late 1946, primarily to shuttle gold between Hong Kong and Macau.
The lack of an airstrip in Macau in those days meant landing on water was the only option.
On July 16, 1948, a Catalina flying boat, Miss Macao, which was chartered to Matco for flights between Hong Kong and Macau, became the world's first commercial victim of an air hijacking.
Miss Macao was making a routine flight that day with 26 passengers and crew when four hijackers demanded that the plane be taken to a remote area. The hijackers had heard tempting reports of cargoes of gold bullion and planned to hold up the Catalina and divert it to another location where it could be looted.
But the plan failed when one of the hijackers shot the pilot, whose body slumped across the controls, causing the aircraft to dive into the sea. Twenty-six people died. The only survivor was the leader of the hijackers.
Mr Ng said the seaplane service operated between Hong Kong and Macau until the late 1950s. "Seaplane services became obsolete after the opening of the Kai Tak runway in 1958," said Mr Ng, author of a book on Hong Kong's aviation history.
July 18th, 2008, 06:37 AM
Entrepreneur floats planfor seaplanes to Macau
Scheduled service awaiting approval from government
14 July 2008
South China Morning Post
Seaplanes flying over Victoria Harbour and taking passengers to and from Macau will become a reality in the foreseeable future if the government approves a plan to relaunch the flights, which form part of the collective memory of Hongkongers.
WaterfrontAir, a firm founded by Canadian entrepreneur Michael Agopsowicz, plans to operate a scheduled seaplane service between a new Kai Tai Waterfront Aerodrome and the Pak On ferry terminal near Macau's Cotai Strip.
The company intends to use a fleet of 18-seater DHC-6 Twin Otter floatplanes for the flights, which would take about 20 minutes.
It plans to create a licensed water aerodrome opposite the old Kai Tak airport runway.
Passengers would be taken to the Kowloon City ferry pier after the seaplanes landed.
The Tourism Commission and the Tourism Board have given their backing to the proposal because it would enhance Hong Kong's appeal as a city with diversity and fun. But the project first needs to pass an environmental-impact assessment.
Mr Agopsowicz, also director of the company, said he would look for investors for the project and planned to commission an environmental-impact assessment and a noise-impact assessment in the second half of the year.
The firm plans to charge about HK$1,500 for a one-way trip, compared with HK$2,200 to HK$2,400 for a helicopter trip between Hong Kong and Macau or about HK$150 for a jetfoil. It plans to run 20 flights a day.
The firm estimates 150,000 visitors will take the trips every year.
Mr Agopsowicz said he discussed the concept with Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing Francis Ho Suen-wai on March 18.
In a letter to Mr Agopsowicz on May 5, the bureau said: "From the aviation point of view, we have no objection in principle to your idea, but the feasibility of the idea hinges on the satisfactory resolution of a wide range of technical issues."
A bureau spokeswoman said these issues concerned the feasibility of the idea from the perspectives of civil aviation, district planning, land-use planning, environmental impact and interface with marine activities.
"The Tourism Commission considers that an alternative means of fast transportation to Macau should be a [welcome] addition to enhance connectivity and choice. The seaplanes championed by you look attractive and elegant, and are good for leisure travel," the bureau said in its letter to Mr Agopsowicz.
The commission was of the view that the plan would enhance Hong Kong's appeal.
In a letter to Mr Agopsowicz last month, Tourism Board executive director Anthony Lau Chun-hon said: "Not only can the service offer users the opportunity to view Hong Kong's spectacular skyline and cityscape over Victoria Harbour, it can also strengthen Hong Kong's image as a major cosmopolitan city."
Scheduled seaplanes between Hong Kong and Macau were operated between the 1930s and 1950s.
Mr Agopsowicz said seaplanes did not have a significant environmental impact. "They compare very favourably to conventional motorised boats in terms of air and water pollution," he said.
He added that the DHC-6 planes he planned to deploy for the services were much quieter than helicopters and the service would operate in daytime only.
Mr Agopsowicz said seaplane services did not require a huge amount of investment and he estimated that the start-up investment for the project would be below US$5 million.
Bruce Liu Sing-lee, Kowloon City district councillor representing the Kai Tak constituency, said he would support the proposal if the noise level was acceptable.
"I think the seaplane services would create a substantial number of job opportunities for the neighbourhood and the whole Kowloon City district," Mr Liu said.
September 11th, 2008, 11:55 AM
HK eyes nostalgic return of seaplanes to its harbour
HONG KONG, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Propeller-powered seaplanes could once more glide into Hong Kong's famed harbour, with the former British colony now considering a proposal to revive this bygone era of travel after half a century.
In the 1930s, when the modern financial hub was a sleepy colonial outpost, seaplanes could be seen splashing down like gleaming silver gulls into the calm embrace of its deep-water harbour -- dotted with Chinese junks and sampans, and buttressed by rippling hills to the north and south.
While the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in World War Two disrupted runs to the nearby Portuguese enclave of Macau which lacked a terrestrial airstrip, seaplanes took off again after the war, though their commercial viability waned and this brief flirtation with amphibious flights came to an end by the 1960s.
Now, a Canadian entrepreneur is aiming to revive some of the thrill and romance of the era, with a proposal to launch regular seaplane services between Hong Kong and the booming casino hub of Macau on twin-propeller, 18-seat DHC-6 Twin Otters.
"It's going to take two or three minutes to transit the harbour and honestly the view is going to be absolutely phenomenal," said Michael Agopsowicz, director of WaterfrontAir.
"These are the same planes they use to fly through the Grand Canyon... it's the real James Bond experience," he added.
While the government is still considering the safety and viability of the proposal, the city's tourism promotion board has backed the idea's business and leisure potential.
"Not only can the services offer users the opportunity to view Hong Kong's spectacular skyline and cityscape over the Victoria Harbour, they can also strengthen Hong Kong's image as a major cosmopolitan city," said the board's executive director, Anthony Lau, in a recent written response.
FLYING DOWN MEMORY LANE
The seaplanes are slated to take off from a water aerodrome near Hong Kong's old Kai Tak airport, which stands to evoke nostalgic memories of the exhilarating arrival by air to the city in the old days, as planes banked precariously over the rooftops of buildings onto a runway jutting into the harbour.
"Great idea, I would love to see this happen," said a blogger called Christopher Cundle on the Hong Kong plane spotter's website (www.hkspotting.com)
The seaplanes would be cheaper -- around $200 a trip -- than existing helicopter services to Macau that cost around $300 and quicker than ferry services that take an hour, with plans to have 20 flights a day ferrying 150,000 visitors a year.
"This could be history being renewed, a lot of people are excited about that," said Agopsowicz.
Since the first French-designed "Canard" took flight in 1910, seaplanes have been used for diverse civilian, emergency and military purposes in remote areas including the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness, as well as the African Bush.
Seaplanes are also a fixture in places like Vancouver in Canada, the Caribbean islands, Glasgow and Sydney.
Asia however, despite its stunning coasts and famed port cities, has few commercial seaplane services except those plying the turquoise seas of southern Thailand and the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
January 7th, 2010, 04:57 PM
Shenzhen to launch seaplane service as HK delays approval
7 January 2010
South China Morning Post
Hong Kong-based WaterfrontAir, which originally planned to operate a seaplane service between the city and Macau, will launch seaplane flights from Shenzhen to Macau and Guangzhou in the fourth quarter of this year.
WaterfrontAir and Shenzhen Airport Ferry Terminal Services Company, a subsidiary of the Shenzhen Airport Company, yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding to provide seaplane services from the Shenzhen Airport ferry pier to neighbouring cities in the Pearl River Delta.
WaterfrontAir, which will have its headquarters in Shenzhen, hopes to launch seaplane services from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Macau next year. The company will start with seaplane flights from the special economic zone to Macau and Guangzhou.
The firm, set up by entrepreneurs Michael Agopsowicz of Canada and Peter de Kantzow of Australia, will lease a fleet of 18-seater DHC-6 Twin Otter floatplanes for the flights.
WaterfrontAir has been pressing ahead since last year with the plan to operate a scheduled seaplane service between a new Kai Tak waterfront aerodrome and the Pak On ferry terminal near Macau's Cotai Strip.
The Tourism Commission and the Tourism Board have given their backing for the proposal, saying it will enhance Hong Kong's appeal. But the project needs to pass an assessment of its environmental impact.
Scheduled seaplane services operated between Hong Kong and Macau between the 1930s and 1950s.
"It takes a long time to get approval for launching seaplane flights in Hong Kong, and we have decided to start our operations in Shenzhen as the city happened to be a lot faster in granting the green light," Agopsowicz said.
The company intends to commission an environmental impact assessment and a noise impact assessment in the first half of the year.
"If things proceed smoothly, we expect to launch seaplane flights between Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Macau next year," said de Kantzow, the son of Cathay Pacific co-founder Sydney de Kantzow, who also set up Macau Air Transport Company in 1948.
The flight from Hong Kong to Shenzhen will take 15 minutes, compared with 45 minutes for the Hong Kong to Guangzhou trip. The flight from Hong Kong to Macau would take 20 minutes.
The firm plans to charge about HK$2,800 for a one-way trip between Hong Kong and Guangzhou.