Scheduled service awaiting approval from government
Gary Cheung – Updated on Jul 14, 2008 – SCMP
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.