A proposed seaplane service looking to offer direct flights to Hope Town made a test run to the island on October 19 with a view to starting regular service in the new year.
IJet Charters partnered with Tropic Ocean Airways to bring a new direct service to Hope Town hoping to add a new level of convenience to travelling to Abaco’s cays.
Jim Sweiter, President of IJet Charters in Fort Lauderdale, said “I saw a real need for these little islands outside of the big Abaco island for direct air service out of Fort Lauderdale. The people who can afford homes here value their time as important and the quicker I can get them here from Fort Lauderdale the better.”
He said with this service he plans to leave at noon out of Fort Lauderdale starting in the first quarter early in 2014. “This gives time for all the banks of airlines to get into Fort Lauderdale. We’ll have a private van pick them up at the terminal, take them to Sheltair where they will be loaded – no TSA, no screening – and an hour and fifteen minutes later they are landing here,” he said.
He said his prices will possibly be just a little more than the airlines’ average; “I’m still working on that, but the value is time and convenience, no taxi cabs, no fares – I believe people will pay the same or maybe a little premium, to come non-stop here.”
Depending on its success he would like to expand it to include West Palm Beach in the route and maybe add Green Turtle Cay or some other locations.
Robert Ceravolo, President of Tropic Ocean Airways, Former US Navy fighter pilot who flew with them for fourteen years leaving active duty in 2010 to pursue setting up a seaplane company. He still flies part time in the Navy Reserves.
The seaplane is a Cessna Grand Caravan and can comfortably seat eight passengers and they are looking to fly Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday so he hopes to bring about 30 people a week here and if the demand is there they will add more flights.
Mr. Ceravolo said Tropic Ocean Airways started regular service to Bimini in 2011 and since then have grown to a five airplane fleet. They have been looking to break into the Abaco market for some time and this past summer they “did a Green Turtle Cay run to try it out there and it was quite successful.”
He said he met Jim through Beth Watson (daughter of famous dive guide Neil Watson) and he suggested the idea of offering scheduled flights here. “So we decided to collaborate together and hopefully get the service started in December or January.”
Wynsome Ferguson, Director of Abaco’s Tourism Office said she thinks “it is a wonderful opportunity.”
“As we know airlift is a major challenge here in Abaco and being able to add new airlift to what we have now is a definite plus; and it’s something that is totally different – a seaplane,” she said.
She added “It offers a great experience and breathtaking views and as we landed it was just an awesome feeling – it’s a new adventure.”