An Aerial Taxi Service With A Twist: Meet Seaplane Hong Kong

Hong Kong is about to get a new airline, and it’s a bit different from what you might expect. Start-up Seaplane Hong Kong plans to begin on-demand hop-on-hop-off air taxi services around Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area this year. Like any self-respecting start-up, you’ll be able to call up your seaplane using an app. But there’s no word yet on whether you can rate your ride!

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Seaplane Hong Kong wants to start flying later this year. Photo: Fredrik Rubensson via Wikimedia Commons

The service is still subject to regulatory approval, but this is no watery pipedream.  The people behind the project are pumping nearly US$13 million into the service. They plan to start with two Twin Otter aircraft this year, growing to 28 aircraft by 2025. By then, Seaplane Hong Kong hopes to be flying not just around Hong Kong and the Greater Bay area, but around the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Seaplane Hong Kong’s Twin Otters will fly 19 passengers and two crew. The aircraft has a range of 1,435 kilometers and a cruising speed of 196 kilometers per hour. In addition to the seven million-plus people living in and around Hong Kong, 72 million people live in the Greater Bay Area. A further 113 million people live in the Guangdong Province.

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Seaplane Hong Kong will be operating around one of the world’s busiest harbors. Photo: Getty Images

Seaplane Hong Kong will be just like Uber

Seaplane Hong Kong says it will offer three services, including an aerial sightseeing service around Hong Kong from just US$33. They’ll also facilitate charters. But those charters might cost a bit more. Steven Cheung says they’ll be available “if you are wealthy enough or want some privacy.”

What’s most interesting is their idea of an air taxi service, an on-demand service you can call up via their app. Seaplane Hong Kong hopes to have approval to run their seaplane taxi service between Hong Kong and the Greater Bay area by mid-year. They say the seaplanes are certified to fly in mainland China, but this is the first time they’ll regularly be operating out of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor. That’s one of the world’s busiest harbors, but Seaplane Hong Kong has identified locations on the harbor’s perimeter pilots can taxi to and safely arrive and depart from.

Next year, they hope to move into nearby markets like the Philippines, targeting island nations and countries with large coastal areas. The Twin Otters can make it as far as Shanghai, but Mr Cheung says they’ll be sticking to the coastal zones.

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The range of Seaplane Hong Kong’s Twin Otters from various potential bases. Source: Seaplanes Hong Kong

Seaplane Hong Kong to tap into synergies and property developments to support operations

In conjunction with a fleet of seaplanes buzzing around the Greater Bay Area, Mr Cheung plans to build a series of four and five-star hotels, shopping centers, and marinas. Mr Cheung says the revenue from these projects will cross-subsidize the seaplane operations. He says he will be delighted if his seaplane taxi service can break even after three years.

In addition to the 100 odd million people who live around the Greater Bay catchment area, these kinds of properties will provide Seaplane Hong Kong with a market and a range of destinations. In a perfect world, Mr Chung wants to pick up passengers somewhere like the Kai Tak cruise terminal (where there are existing immigration facilities) and fly them to one of their hotels or shopping malls.

2021 may not seem the ideal time to start-up an airline. But Mr Cheung is careful to differentiate Seaplane Hong Kong from regular passenger airlines and other local transport methods (like high-speed rail). He sees Seaplane Hong Kong as complementing rather than competing with them. Seaplane Hong Kong won’t be relying exclusively on tourists. The focus will be the local market, particularly those Hong Kong locals who like a bit of luxe. As Steven Cheung notes, there are quite a few of them.

“We won’t have any problems putting bums on seats,” he said.

What do you think? What are the prospects for an air taxi service around Hong Kong and the Greater Bay area? Post a comment and let us know.

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