Surcar Airlines to launch seaplane service in the Canary Islands

Feb 6, 2022

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It’s a very long way from the cold plains of Jutland near the northern tip of Denmark to the subtropical volcanic peaks of the Canary Islands, but this week one of Nordic Seaplanes’ DHC-6 Twin Otters made a rare visit to this Spanish archipelago off the Saharan coast.

65 years after the closure of the last regular seaplane operation in the Canaries, the arrival of this Danish amphibious aircraft to Tenerife is a tangible manifestation of Spain’s seaplane revival.

Nordic Seaplanes, which runs what is currently Europe’s only regular seaplane route, between Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, is also an investor in Surcar Airlines, a start-up that aims to launch seaplane service in the Canary Islands.

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This whole week, Nordic’s 16-seater Twin Otter has been performing a number of demo flights with local authorities, journalists and other special guests onboard. The goal was to show the feasibility of Surcar’s plan. Using the Port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife as a base, Surcar’s seaplanes will provide an alternative way to travel to the neighboring islands faster than ferries and more convenient and direct than conventional airlines.

Gerardo Morales-Hierro, Surcar’s managing director, sees potential for some 15,000 passengers per year. It’s still a niche market (Canarian inter-island traffic was around 5M passengers in 2019), but one that can open up some interesting options for visitors wishing to explore the wide diversity of landscapes found throughout the archipelago.

There is no confirmed launch date yet, but Surcar’s managers expect to get regulatory approval before the end of this year.

The country has been pretty much devoid of commercial seaplane operations for many decades, but this year Spain may be getting not just one, but two seaplane airlines, with the Balearic islands about to get their own operator too.

Related: Your vacation guide to Tenerife, Canary Islands

Isla Air Express is also awaiting regulatory approval to kick-start flights out of its base in Majorca. Barcelona, Valencia and the adjacent islands of Minorca and Ibiza have been lined up as the initial destinations. The start-up is even touting the possibility of launching the first-ever regular air service to the tiny island of Formentera, a bohemian retreat renowned for its laidback lifestyle, which currently has no air links of any sort. However, it is not yet clear whether the island’s small port facilities will be able to accommodate any seaplane operations.

“We have already secured two amphibian Twin Otters, which are waiting in Marseilles … we are ready to go as soon as we get the green light from the authorities” explains Sergio Nuñez-Cacho, one of Isla Air’s founders, before adding that tickets will be priced in line with those of regular airlines.

Distances between the different Balearic islands, and between the archipelago and the mainland, are rather short, but once you add transfers to and from the airport and pre-boarding procedures, journey times add up considerably. By operating from downtown ports, Isla Air Express expects to cut those down significantly.

A shift in attitude by the country’s aviation authorities, which until now had been quite restrictive towards commercial seaplane operations, may have been a key factor in getting the industry off the ground (or off the water in this case!). With a clear regulatory framework in place, Spanish seaplane entrepreneurs look confidently to the future

In the case of Isla Air Express, its founders are also devising plans to switch to electric propulsion as soon as technology permits. The company is already in conversations with Dante Aeronautical, an engineering firm that is working on electric propulsion technology.

After all, it was a seaplane operator Harbour Air, of British Columbia, Canada, that in 2019 performed the first-ever all-electric (experimental) commercial flight.

Mr. Nuñez-Cacho points at that event as a source of inspiration “The seaplane community is not that big. We all try to learn and support each other,” he explained.

Related: Seaplanes Are Making a Comeback

Despite having quite a few coastal regions and islands that, at first glance, look suitable for seaplane operations, Europe hasn’t been much of a fertile ground for this segment of aviation to date. Besides Nordic’s aforementioned route in Denmark, other attempts to operate regular commercial services in European waters have been short-lived.

One of these was European Coastal Airlines (ECA), which ran a seaplane service in Croatia’s Adriatic coast between 2014 and 2016. Some of ECA’s former managers are now investors in the Isla Air Express project.

Further east in the Mediterranean, Greece, with its myriad of islands and its long, intricate coastline, is the country that may soon get seaplane operations, too. According to some reports in the local media, a start-up called Hellenic Seaplanes may be getting ready to launch in the summer of 2022. Although it would not be the first time that this date is pushed further into the future. Despite having been founded back in 2013 this airline hasn’t flown yet.

In any case, and regardless of which one of these projects is first to market, chances are that this will be the year that seaplanes finally made it back to some of Europe’s most popular coastal destinations.

Featured photo courtesy of Surcar Airlines.

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