Pacific Seaplanes successfully landed their first plane at Centennial Pier on Jan. 28. The company announced that they would be offering scheduled seaplane service between Port Alberni and Vancouver earlier this month.
Despite a postponed flight the day prior due to the weather, CEO Randy Hanna said that the inaugural flight in was a good one.
“It was really smooth right up until right up by Cameron Lake so I flew past that and came around the other way,” he said.
Hanna said that the decision to offer service to Port Alberni was easy to make after their experience flying to Bamfield.
“Port Alberni, the undiscovered jewel on the west coast and under-served for all these years,” said Hanna.
“We have a service that started in 2015 from Vancouver and Nanaimo out to Bamfield and the West Coast and it’s just such a beautiful place. Every time I flew by Alberni and looked down, I went ‘something’s missing.’”
Pacific Seaplanes did a few charter flights last fall and Hanna said the response was overwhelming.
“We were literally mobbed on the dock, people were asking for tours and could we fly here or could we fly there. We said absolutely, went home and had a huddle about it, made the inquiries about it and discovered the community had been searching for an air service and we were only too happy to comply.”
Hanna, who got his start flying for Pacific Rim Airlines out of Port Alberni, said that service out of Port Alberni will be key to connecting out to the west coast as well.
“There hasn’t been a seaplane service here in Alberni for more than 25 years and one of the missing links as well has been from Port Alberni out to Bamfield, the Barkley Sound, Ucleulet, the fishing lodges and the residents who live out there,” he said.
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Hanna added that he’s been overwhelmed with the phone calls and emails asking for more details about the service.
Pacific Seaplanes will also be using Port Alberni as a base for tours around the region.
“The other fantastic part of the new service will be the tours available from now on out of Alberni including a local panorama flight, a flight up to Della Falls, through Great Central Lake and a Pacific Tofino tour.”
Pacific Seaplanes will initially offer one flight from Vancouver to Port Alberni (arriving at 11:35 a.m.) and one flight to the Vancouver International Airport (departing at 2:30 p.m.). Flight duration is approximately 30-35 minutes and is weather-dependent, said Hanna. Flights will cost $199, taxes and fees included.
Currently, Pacific Seaplanes will offer the daily flights on their Cessna 180 four-seater but hope to offer flights more often on bigger airplanes by April 1, 2016.
“When we base an aircraft here, which will probably be as early as April 1, we’ll be adding two more round trip flights a day to Vancouver,” said Hanna.
Though Hanna is confident that regular service won’t be a problem even with unpredictable coastal weather, he said it’s something that they’ll have to work with—as they did by postponing the inaugural flight.
“It was truly extraordinary weather [Jan. 27] and though we would love to be able to operate every flight on time, all the time, the west coast weather is unpredictable. We’re trained and we operate a safe service so there will be disruptions.”
While currently the planes will land at Centennial Pier, they may switch over to the Port Alberni Port Authority’s new Somass fuel dock later.
“We’re in discussions with the port about a new facility they’re planning over on Somass pier,” he said but added that Pacific Seaplanes has a years-long agreement to operate at Centennial Pier.
Port authority director of public relations and business development Dave McCormick said that they hope to have Pacific Seaplanes fueling at their Somass fuel dock by the end of May 2016.
As far as office space goes, Hanna said that talks are underway to collocate with West Coast Aquatic in their soon to be opened stewardship centre at Harbour Quay.
“Over time we’ll possibly look at locating our administrative offices in Port Alberni with more jobs and more service.”