Thursday, December 17, 2015

Seaplane service proposed for Navy Pier

17-Dec-15 – Travel from Chicago to neighboring states by seaplane could be an option as early as next May. A Chicago investment company is seeking regulatory approval for an amphibious aircraft facility at Navy Pier.

James Chuck
Azure Aviation Group, LLC, wants to use the quieter north side of Navy Pier for takeoffs and landings, operating during the day from May to November.

“Seaplanes are often used to get up and over bodies of water,” says James Price Chuck, a principal of Azure Aviation Group. “We also look at it as a transportation solution to get up and over congestion.”

It has been about 60 years since Chicago had a seaplane base. At one time, there were two facilities at Navy Pier where amphibious aircraft could land. They were in operation in the 1940s and 1950s.

Chuck says what makes Navy Pier an ideal location is its breakwater, the barrier that protects the harbor from waves, and $200 million worth of infrastructure. The infrastructure is used less Monday through Friday when fewer tourists are at Navy Pier, and he says officials of Navy Pier are “very excited about bringing a different kind of visitor to the pier, that’s not just a regional tourist but a regional business person.”

5-10 flights per day anticipated

Five to ten times a day, a single-engine Cessna 208 EX with two pontoons, two pilots, and up to eight TSA-screened passengers would take off from Navy Pier. Milwaukee would be 30 minutes away. Indianapolis and Grand Rapids, 40 minutes. Springfield, 70 minutes.

While the aircraft’s range is much farther, Chuck says 90 minutes will be the maximum flying time because “after 90 minutes, seaplanes without a bathroom on board become not a lot of fun.”

Exact air fares have not yet been determined, but a flight to Milwaukee will cost about $100. Indianapolis will cost about $180 and Springfield will cost about $200.

“These prices will likely go up, in reality, but we are not sure yet by what margin,” he says. “Air fares are not yet set because some key operational costs are not yet set, either.”

Reasons for flying evolve in Chicago’s century of seaplane history

The first seaplane arrived in Chicago in 1913, landing in Monroe Harbor near where Buckingham Fountain would be built 14 years later.

A 1942 photo of “the Seaplane Base mascot.” Navy Pier is visible in distance at upper left.

In 1938, a seaplane base was built in the harbor south of Navy Pier. It was used by the Chicago Seaplane Flying Association, a non-profit group of seaplane pilots who mainly wanted to travel to Chicago from summer homes. They had to get permission from the United States War Department to use the harbor. Before that, as early as 1935, there was a dock in Monroe Harbor for seaplanes but it was seldom used.

A second seaplane base was approved in 1949 and operated with four airplanes on the north side of Navy Pier into the 1950s. It is included in a 1954 directory of Illinois airports.


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