Seaplanes to Sail the Skies Again in Hong Kong?

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HONG KONG, July 15 – Canadian entrepreneur Michael Agopsowicz has proposed a new seaplane service to the Hong Kong government, the South China Morning Post reports. The route, a Hong Kong-Macau service from Kowloon’s old Kai Tak Airport site to the Pak On Ferry Terminal in Macau, would be the first time since 1961 that seaplanes have seen active commercial service in Hong Kong.

The proposal, which was put forward to the permanent secretary for transportation, Francis Ho Suen-wai, has received favorable comments as Hong Kong seeks to bolster its image as a city of interest and distinction. “An alternative means of fast transportation between Hong Kong and Macau should be a welcome addition to enhance connectivity and choice,” Ho said.

The proposal, which has yet to pass an environmental impact assessment, has also received backing from the Tourism Commission and Tourism Board of Hong Kong because it enhances the city’s diversity and adds “a fun element to local travel.” If the plan is approved, the newly formed airline, Waterfront Air, would sell one-way tickets to Macau for HK$1,500—a current one-way trip via helicopter costs HK$2,300 while the fast boat service costs HK$150.

This will not be the first time that seaplanes have serviced Hong Kong. In fact, the use of such craft in Hong Kong has a colorful history. Scheduled services from Pan American Airways flew between Hong Kong and Macau in the 1930s, which also connected with routes from Manila and San Francisco. This seaplane route was, in fact, the first American commercial service to operate between China and the United States. The twice weekly service was suspended in 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent invasion of Hong Kong.

The planes were also used, on occasion, to carry gold bullion between Hong Kong and Macau—a situation that resulted in the world’s first commercial airline hijacking. A Catalina seaplane named Miss Macao was hijacked in 1948 on route from Macau to Hong Kong. Four Chinese men carrying guns entered the cockpit minutes after take off and demanded the co-pilot surrender the controls. He refused, was shot, and in the ensuing chaos, the pilot was also shot five times in the back, causing him to falls into the controls, sending the plane into an uncontrolled dive. The plane crashed into the sea, killing all but one of the 27 people aboard.

Despite the incident, services continued through the late 1950s, when the opening of the new runway at Kai Tak made the seaplanes obsolete in 1958. The final flights were operated by the Macao Air Transport Company, formed by Sydney de Kantzow and Roy Farrell, which discontinued the seaplane routes in 1961. Their other airline company, which did not include any seaplanes by then, continued to fare better—that company was Cathay Pacific.

The planes earmarked for use this time around are Canadian De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters, widely used across Canada and the United States and very popular with tourists and businesspeople. They would be configured for 18 seats, with the from Hong Kong to Macau lasting about half an hour. Should the project receive the green light from the government, investment will be sought for an initial US$5 million to commence the airline operations, Mr. Agopsowicz said.

3 Responses

  • Nigel Lam says:

    Seaplane service is a great idea, but why for short haul to Macau? I assume they are aware of the HK to Macau bridge which will most likely make this idea redundant commercially. One would reckon a seaplane taxi service to holiday destinations will make more commercial sense.

  • Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Maybe. But they also look really cool…the aesthetic appeal I guess.

  • Derek Empson says:

    I was delighted to see the photo of a 1930s/50s era flying boat and the hoped for service from Kai Tak. May I remind readers that UK Royal Air Force Sunderland four-engine flying boats were base at and flew from the alighting area off Kaitak and Kowloon from after World War II until 1959. They provided search and rescue services in the Hong Kong and South China Sea area to both military and civil aircraft throughout daylight hours. This was when Cathy Pacific had just four DC3s and one DC4, and BOAC flew a daily service from London using 4-piston engine Argonauts. Aircraft did not land or take-off from the Kaitak runway at night because of the difficult and potentially dangerous approach to and departure from this airfield which then served Hong Kong. The present airport was built on reclaimed land on part of what was in the 1950s, the flying boat take-off and landing area. Of course we shared this with sampans and merchant ships! I was “we” because I was a navigator aboard one of those Sunderlands from 1952 and ’54 and spent many months at Kowloon and RAF Kai Tak on SAR duty. We used to patrol at low level around the island coastlines and would sometimes land on the sea, drop anchor and go for a swim. Kowloon (and Hong Kong) were bustling and enjoyable cities as they no doubt are today. Kowloon then had a very distinctive smell which I won’t try to describe. It would be great if a civil flying boat service could be resurrected from Hong Kong. My experiences as a flying boat navigator in the Far East will, in Spring 2010, be released and described in my book called “Sunderland over Far Eastern Seas”.

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