There is something special about watching a seaplane in action or even just seeing tied to the dock. I think that fascination is true for pilots and non-pilots alike. Even new seaplanes still carry a hint of nostalgia from era long ago and they always attract attention on land or in the water. I know that excitement still exists for me, and I’ve been lucky enough to be flying seaplanes for the past 30+ years. If I had a dollar every time I heard a pilot say they wish could get a seaplane rating or one day they will check that seaplane experience off their dream list I’d have a nice wad of cash by now. Of course that makes no sense for someone like me so I have to ask, why don’t more pilots get their seaplane rating if they want it so badly?
Pre-carbon fiber days we were limited to the classics on floats such as a popular C185, a Cub on floats or perhaps the Lake amphibian as available options for training and purchase. Obtaining the SES was somewhat affordable and you could bang out the rating on weekend course for a reasonable rate. Seaplane flight schools have come and gone but thankfully some of the classics like Jack Browns are still going at it. And forget about finding a seaplane rental. That was extremely rare to find an outfit that would rent a seaplane even during the best of times but insurance requirements these days have just about put a complete end to that.
Add the extra maintenance costs associated with operating a seaplane, especially in salt water, and just the simple task of knowing how to safely operate a seaplane and the hurdles start to mount up. As easy as it seems, amphibious flying is five times more likely to have a gear mishap being up or down at the wrong time. Off airport landing can be challenging (but that is part of the fun with seaplanes). We never stop learning in aviation and that couldn’t be truer for seaplane flying. It’s not as easy as picking any old body of water to land and go for it. There are many more hazards to contend with and you need to be on your game when flying seaplanes.
I almost feel like I’m talking myself out of flying seaplanes. I get it. It’s not easy to get into seaplane flying these days.
But wait. What if there was a way to get into seaplane flying that was safe and affordable? What if you didn’t want to give up that great useful load and speed of your current aircraft or rental but had access to the “seaplane adventure” through an established network? That’s the code we are trying to crack by launching the Low Altitude Adventures membership program this year. How do we minimize the purchase, operating and insurance challenges associated with getting into seaplane flying, and, have it make sense.
The catalyst to this concept was the ICON A5, our first aircraft for this program. Most of my float flying was in the trusty Cessna 185 workhorse and I never imagined myself flying a Rotax powered, two-seat LSA. That was unit I took a demo flight in the A5. I was amazed by the A5’s stability and safety features. Icon’s moto was to “democratize aviation” and the concept had good intentions of doing just that. Of course, the aviation universe will challenge even the best of plans so while the price may have ballooned, we still think the A5 is the best platform for what we are trying to accomplish.
Icon came up with an excellent and thoughtful design with the A5. It’s carbon fiber construction, amphibious capabilities, parachute system, the first aircraft ever to receive a spin resistant certification and user-friendly simplicity, pilots will enjoy the freedom of getting back to basics. It’s all about eyes outside and feel what the airplane is saying to you with classic “seat of the pants” flying.
Although our marketing focus is geared more towards individuals that are already certified pilots, that may or may not own an airplane, we can help those that are interested to get into flying for the first time as well. Our program is a five-year term buy-in with a monthly fee that covers aircraft management, maintenance, hangar and the coveted group insurance policy. This gives members 50 days of access per year, no hourly limit. Members pay for fuel, flight instructors and they are required to purchase a standard renters insurance to cover the deductibles. If you decide that you want out before the term ends LAA will buy back you membership at a pre-determined depreciation rate.
We’ve also established a “bridge-to-ownership” program where if you decide you want to buy your own Icon we’ll buy back your membership after 18 months and can assist you with the acquisition process. Members can reserve the aircraft for multiples days in a row and keep it at other approved locations around New England. This gives our member’s added convenience and the ability to enjoy the Icon without any pressure to get it back. We also have a trailer now to transport the aircraft for members if we run into weather issues for a standard fee. This creates ultimate logistic flexibility for the membership and better aircraft management for us.
The initial training is a big step to becoming a member. LAA has a staff of ICON Authorized Flight Instructors (IAFI) that were training by Icon Aircraft Corp. We worked with insurance underwriters for well over a year developing a training program focused aeronautical decision-making skills. We record each flight on an Ipad app and those events go into the member’s electronic folders as evidence-based training records. Once members meet the flight training and demonstrated abilities criteria at our designated water landing zones, they can begin to explore other approved locations. For those just starting out we only focus on standard land operations before getting into water flying. Newbies have the option to go for the Sport Pilot License or the full Private Pilot certificate.
The best way to see what Low Altitude adventures is all about is to come take a demo flight. Our next aircraft is coming from the factory and will be based in Laconia, NH for the summer and Fort Myers starting this winter. We are excited to expand to other locations and get as many people as possible into the ICON A5. You won’t be disappointed.