Sept. 4, 2001 For the first time in more than a decade, a seaplane will take off from Charlotte Amalie Harbor on Wednesday morning headed for the harbor in Old San Juan, as Seaborne Aviation inaugurates its new Virgin Islands Puerto Rico service.
The last seaplane flight to San Juan was in 1989 with a Seaplane Shuttle Mallard aircraft, which landed at Isla Verde at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.
The Seaborne 17-passenger de Havilland Twin Otter aircraft will take a scenic route around the old city, landing in San Juan Harbor between Piers 6 and 7 on Calle de Marina, within sight of the Capitol Building.
With Customs and Immigration right there, passengers will avoid the long delays at the International Airport and the taxi ride to town, said Omer ErSelcuk, Seaborne chief marketing officer. "The service will take everything that is good about our frequent downtown-to-downtown service between St. Thomas and St. Croix, and make it better," he said.
"It's going to be more convenient for our business travelers," ErSelcuk said, "and we have another market as well — cruise ship connecting passengers. All they have to do is roll their suitcases down the pier, and they're there." He said flights at the end of September are already booked with cruise ship passengers.
There will be a special $69 each way introductory fare from Sept. 5 to 19, ErSelcuk said, with an additional $10 each way for connecting St. Croix passengers who must come through St. Thomas. Standard fares after the special will be from $80 to $99 each way, with special rates for residents. The 45-minute St. Thomas-San Juan flights will operate Monday to Friday, departing St.Thomas at 8:15 a.m. and noon, and departing San Juan at 9:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays there will be one flight, departing St. Thomas at 3:34 p.m. and departing San Juan at 5 p.m.
Seaborne will initiate a new, innovative Frequent Flyer program Oct. 1, ErSelcuk said, which the company will detail then.
The airline plans direct St. Croix-San Juan daily two-flight service in mid-October after a fifth aircraft is added to its fleet, ErSelcuk said.
And that's not all the news. Seaborne will inaugurate Frederiksted-St.Thomas service in November, a route never flown before, which ErSelcuk said will accommodate business passengers from that end of the island and avoid the long taxi ride to Christiansted. In December service to Tortola from both St. Thomas and St. Croix will be added. The planes will land at West End at the old seaplane ramp.
The Seaborne aircraft have become a familiar sight in the Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted harbors since 1992. The company recently moved its Christiansted operation from the King's Alley boardwalk to the newly revamped Seaplane Shuttle ramp on Watergut, where an elaborate new maintenance hanger is almost completed.
Seaborne is the largest scheduled seaplane operator in the U.S., and carries more than 125,000 passengers a year. It is a V.I. company, employing about 100 employees in the V.I. and Puerto Rico.
To make reservations, call 773-6442. Additional information is available at www.seaborneairlines.com.
Seaborne's de Havillands are float planes that land on the water and taxi up to the ramp. Antilles Airboats, which christened seaplane service in the V.I. in 1964, used 10-passenger Gruman Gooses and later Gruman Mallards, which landed on the water and then waddled up the ramp. At one point, in addition to the St. Thomas-St. Croix route, the company had service to St. Martin, San Juan, Ponce and Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Tortola and St. John. In 1981 the company went out of business.
Later that year, V.I. Seaplane Shuttle started service between St. Thomas and St. Croix, eventually serving Tortola, St. John and San Juan. It went out of service in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo destroyed most of the aircraft.
Since then, a seaplane service using the Mallard aircraft briefly operated out of Cyril E. King and the San Juan International Airport. However it was short-lived as it was unable to reach an agreement with the V.I. Port Authority for leasing the St. Thomas and St. Croix ramps.