The plane now leaving the River Clyde...

21 Aug 2007

The Herald, by David Leask

A new era in aviation for the west of Scotland began yesterday with the launch of a seaplane service between Glasgow and Oban.

The flight takes less than 25 minutes - but even the pilots admit that they might be tempted to take the long way round some of Scotland's most stunning scenery.

"It's breathtaking," said Andrew Kennedy of Loch Lomond Seaplanes ahead of yesterday's maiden flight. "I have flown in Australia, Indonesia, Greece and the Maldives and I would have to say Scotland's scenery is the best. It doesn't get monotonous. You are always seeing something new, the views change with the weather."

Officials were yesterday stressing that their new flights, the first seaplane service in Europe to take off from a city centre, were not just for those who want to gawp at the views, though views there are.

Loch Lomond's nine-seater Cessna 208 will cross some of the country's most remarkable landscapes on its trip, from its futuristic base next to Glasgow Science Centre across the Firth of Clyde, Loch Lomond and the rugged hills of Argyll into its gentle harbour at Kerrera for the ferry to Oban.

David West, the firm's owner, said: "This will put Glasgow and the west of Scotland in the same league as Vancouver, Seattle and Sydney."

Captain West has unashamedly borrowed from the business models in those cities, where seaplanes carry a combination of scheduled traffic and holidaymakers. Oban, he said, could just be the start of a network of flights.

"Scotland's geography and abundance of lochs offers a natural alternative transportation network. A versatile seaplane can take advantage of that unique geography to open up parts of the country that are normally difficult and time-consuming to reach," he said.

Mull, Skye and Tobermory are all targets. All the seaplane needs is a pontoon to pull up beside. It is fully licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority to land anywhere in Scotland's 560 lochs, 700 islands and 6200 miles of coastline.

One early visitor yesterday was Stuart Stevenson, the Transport Minister. His predecessor backed plans for a multi-million pound new airport at Oban but Mr Stevenson seemed impressed by the low-tech option.

"This is a terrific opportunity for Glasgow, for our tourist industry," he said. "It's an initiative that shows that with little infrastructure we may well be able to build something extremely useful, not just for Glasgow but for our rural communities."

Return flights to Oban will cost a flat fare of just under £150. For some, it is a quick and real alternative to a two-and-half-hour, 91-mile road trip. For many more, it's a sightseeing treat of a lifetime.

Captain West has been running charters from Loch Lomond for three years and is convinced there is a demand. He said: "Flying these days is so impersonal. The seaplane puts back the joy, the love and the fun of travel, including the romance. We get a lot of proposals on our existing flights and we have even had one marriage on the plane."

The first fully commercial Oban flight, to take off on Thursday, is booked up.

What if it rains? Then the scenery will be different, Captain West said, but not worse. In rain, the Cessna zips along, sometimes at just 300ft, soaring over cloudy or misty coastal castles.

 

Reproduced with the permission of The Herald (Glasgow) © Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd.

  • Loch Lomond Seaplane at Pacific Quay

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