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California seaplane business in fight to surviveCalifornia seaplane business in fight to survive

A California air tour company that won a round to stay in business before a government board as hundreds of supporters packed a public hearing will continue its survival struggle before a second county panel in October.

On Aug. 28, the Marin County Planning Commission voted 5-0, with two members recusing themselves, to deny a staff recommendation to curtail the use permit conditions for Seaplane Adventures, a business that provides sightseeing tours of the San Francisco area and offers air charter services.

The planning commission also voted to recommend voiding several existing limitations of the use permit, acknowledging that the FAA’s regulatory authority over aviation supersedes the county’s ability to limit flights.

The commission’s action becomes the basis for a recommendation to the Marin County Board of Supervisors, which has referred the matter for further consideration to the county’s aviation commission, which will meet Oct. 5, said Aaron Singer of Seaplane Adventures.

Aaron and Tiffany Singer of Sausalito bought the highly seasonal air-tour business in 2012, rebranding and refocusing an enterprise that traces its roots to a seaplane base that was founded in 1945, and has operated continuously since then.

Recently, noise complaints from some residents who live near the bay where Seaplane Adventures’ two de Havilland Beavers and a Piper Super Cub operate led to the county’s planning division proposing restrictions on the capacity and number of daily flights, and aircraft use of an inlet the company needs for safe surface operations.

An overflow four-hour public hearing was held on the recommendations, which an estimated 250 supporters of the business and a handful of opponents attended, Singer said.

He told the panel that the proposed restraints would threaten the company’s survival, and added that flight-operation and noise constraints were matters for regulation at the federal level by the FAA.

AOPA, which has approximately 34,000 members in California, wrote a letter of support for Seaplane Adventures to the planning commission, pointing out the company’s “impeccable” safety record and its willingness to accommodate the needs of others as the region has undergone change.

“Their commitment to safety is only part of what makes Seaplane Adventures a good neighbor. As residential development has increased around Richardson Bay, Seaplane Adventures adjusted their operations to reduce the impact of aircraft noise on surrounding communities. The changes represent a series of compromises that added costs and operational constraints to the business,” wrote Adam Williams, AOPA manager of airport policy.

In the end, the planning commission voted to recommend that the county supervisors continue Singer’s use permit—which was issued in 1981—in effect.

The planning commission also recommended removing three existing operating restrictions from Seaplane Adventures’ use permit because they were “preempted by federal law and therefore are not enforceable by the County.”

AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager Melissa McCaffrey expressed appreciation for the planning commission’s recommendation “to keep the use permit in place, and for recognizing the limits of their jurisdiction over aircraft noise.”

She also credited “the scores of AOPA members and other supporters who contacted the county and showed up in person for this critical hearing” with making sure that aviation’s voice was heard—and she urged pilots everywhere to note the impact that getting involved can have on public policy decisions.

In a phone interview, Singer described Seaplane Adventures as “part of the cultural fabric” of the area and himself as a “steward,” rather than an owner of the cultural institution that he said is the last commercial seaplane operation in California.

He said he was pleased at the planning commission’s vote, and was grateful for the strong public show of support for his business.

He expressed disappointment, however, that the county supervisors had “punted” on taking definitive final action on the matter by handing it off to the aviation commission, which, according to its by-laws, “shall advise and recommend to the Board of Supervisors on matters relating to Marin County Airports, regulations of private airports, cooperation with military airports, and all other aviation matters."

“I hoped that because the response was so strong from the (planning) commission that the politics of it would be clear,” he said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Seaplane

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