Natural elements, such as wind and waves, pose limitations to water flying, but in most cases regulations are the most effective limiting factor to seaplane operations. This is normally due to the fact that seaplanes almost disappeared in most of the countries after World War II and all traditions, competences and regulations have been lost.
So, in many countries where seaplanes have been absent for a long time, including most of the European countries, regulations do not contemplate their operations. In those countries setting up a seaplane operation is a complex task.
The countries having more liberal regulations are those where seaplane activities never stopped since the beginning of aviation, i.e. in the US, in Canada, in the Scandinavian countries and in Italy.
More liberal regulations have been recently adopted in many countries who eventually understood that seaplanes are a strong factor of economic and social growth, in particular in countries that have a maritime environment and envisage to develop tourism.
The liberal Italian regulations have been recently studied by the aviation authorities of France, Spain, Greece, Montenegro and other countries in order to establish new regulations on the activities involving seaplanes in their countries.
Right to operate on a water surface
The water operations of a seaplane in a certain territory should be allowed by regulations wherever a suitable water surface is found or at least in a very high number of such sites.
This is the Italian law:
“In the case of occasional water surfaces located in areas opened to public motor boat traffic, there is no nihil obstat or concession required; however the operator is responsible for fully respecting the rules of navigation.”
This means that a seaplane can operate freely wherever a boat can operate (and upon permission where boats are forbidden), i.e. almost everywhere. This is fundamental for the development of seaplane activities.
The minimum of bureaucratic procedures have to be established to operate a seaplane.
In Italy to operate on any surface different from a registered water aerodrome, i.e. on an “occasional water surface”, it is sufficient to send a message to the aviation authority and to the public security authority competent for the site of the operation.
Authorities sometimes require a high level of control over flying activities due to safety or security reasons. What we usually try to demonstrate is that a safe seaplane operation and a high level of security is much better obtained through a strict control on the operator’s standards than imposing heavy bureaucratic procedures on every single operations performed.
Where this concept is in force seaplane operations can develop in the safest and most profitable way.
Right to operate in the airspace
Flight, to be a convenient way of transporting people and goods, needs a high level of freedom. This is even more true when general aviation operations are concerned, because general aviation operations are not scheduled and are very often needed or requested within a short time.
If the operations take place within a controlled airspace, it is important to be able to penetrate it just with two-way communication with the air traffic control. Restrictions or a set of agreed procedures could be accepted just close to very large airports.
A seaplane operation is likely to be requested within some minutes and it is important that a flight could take place just filling a log at the point of departure indicating the fundamental data of the intended flight and the names of the people on board.
The use of a seaplane requires a special training. In countries where no regulations on water flying are in force, a training syllabus such as those used in Italy, the US or in the Canadian flight schools can be adopted as a basis.
In these countries it is desirable that a license with SEP SEA rating issued by any US, Canadian or European aviation authority would be recognized and easily converted into a local license, with just a quick course on the specific local regulations, airspace structure and possible particular procedures.
This is important in an initial phase when pilots from countries different from that of the operations are likely to be hired.
Certification of aircraft and parts
In countries where seaplanes are not yet operating, it would be desirable for all types of aircraft and supplementary type certificates as approved in the US, Canada or Europe could be approved through a simple procedure.
Seaplanes need a sheltered body of water to operate safely. Waves are the enemy, both those generated by the wind and – even worse – those due to boat traffic. The choice of a site for a seaplane base has to take into account this factor.
Wind itself is not a major problem, but the waves generated by the wind can be. That is why a not too large body of water is preferable for the takeoff / landing area.
The most important requirement of a water aerodrome is that seaplanes should be able to operate into the wind as much as possible. The choice of site for a seaplane base has to take into account this factor.
Seaplanes normally operate according to the visual flight rules, i.e. with a visibility that has to be beyond a certain threshold. This can be a limiting factor in areas where dense fog or mist or smog is present.
Salt damages in some way airframes and engines. It’s much better to operate in fresh water.
A seaplane base consists of a water surface for takeoff and landing and a few infrastructures on the shore.
The surface can be reserved to just the seaplane traffic or shared with the boat traffic. It can be delimited by buoys or not. It depends on many factors.
The ideal is a circular area where seaplanes could always take off and land in any direction, in accordance with the existing wind.
Operations in rivers and in small bodies of water pose particular problems, to be evaluated in every single case.
Normally a company operates in one main base and a series of secondary bases, in the sites that are envisaged as principal destinations of the flights.
In addition, seaplanes can operate occasionally in sites where no particular infrastructures are present, if not just a beach or a dock, as well as in many sea-ports.
The typical infrastructures of a seaplane base are:
- a hangar
- a fuel tank
- one or more floating docks
- a ramp
- one or more buoys
- at least one assistance/rescue boat
- a small maintenance facility
The infrastructure in a secondary base can be a dock and a small building with a few tools and materials and fuel.
In many places the infrastructures are already available or can be easily adapted, as they are the same used for boats.
A seaplane can approach almost any kind of unprepared shore in the wilderness.
Alternate surfaces have always to be identified and available in case the intended surface for taking off and landing is not practicable, but this is normally not a problem.
JET-A1 and Avgas 100LL or corresponding fuels are necessary to operate seaplanes respectively with turbine or piston engine.
Mogas has to be available to refuel ULM / LSA / VLA or aircraft with engines with mogas conversion.
Experience is the most important element that is appraised when a seaplane pilot is requested. Many company require an experience of 1000 or more hours at the controls of a seaplane to recruit a pilot in a commercial operation.
Other companies prefer pilots who started to fly on a seaplane, i.e. that have a mentality formed since the beginning according to the needs of the seaplane practice.
Excluding firefighting and military activities, requiring special aircraft and crews, general aviation seaplanes are mostly used in charter companies and flight schools.
A charter company can offer sightseeing flights in the area and a transportation service on request for businessman and tourists. The maximum ideal radius of the operations of seaplanes is between 100 and 200 miles. Sightseeing flights are normally performed within a radius of 30-40 miles from the seaplane base or from the point of departure.
Another task typically accomplished by seaplanes is a shuttle service from sites close to bodies of water to main airports, or from the centre of cities to places of interest in the radius of action. If an airport is involved, the use of amphibious seaplanes is required, unless the airport is besides or close to an usable body of water.
To put it more technically, the use of seaplanes can become a link in a wider intermodal transportation system.
Scheduled flight normally require all-weather aircraft flying according to the instrument flight rules, which is not the case of seaplanes. Nevertheless some scheduled activity can be done also with seaplanes operating according to the visual flight rules, provided the proper meteorological conditions in the area and in the season of the operations are granted for most of the time.
It is highly advisable that a flight school for seaplane pilots is set up in every country where a commercial seaplane operation exists.
A flight school for seaplane pilots represents a valuable first step for the youngest who like to dedicate themselves to an aviation career. It is a commonly held view that a seaplane pilot is a better pilot, as he is more independent in his judgment and accustomed to face the unexpected and to operate in the most different environments without specific infrastructures and specialized help.
A flight school could also attract prospective private pilots willing to buy a seaplane for their personal use.
Seaplanes can play a role in emergencies, for search and rescue, medical transport, monitoring and patrolling, aerial photography and logistic support.
As seaplanes are related to very high standards of living, they are often included in presentations, promotional videos, documentaries and commercials, in order to communicate a sense of wealth, distinction and freedom. These are the most profitable operation in which seaplanes can be used.
The choice of the type of seaplanes depends strictly on the exact activity they are intended to perform.
The purchase of a seaplane, in particular if it is made in the second-hand market, as it often happens, has to be made by experts, according to a complex evaluation procedure.