Flying Blind – Residents Blindsided By Cape Air’s Seaplane Plans

A May 14th City Point Neighborhood Association meeting became heated, when Cape Air representatives informed the audience that the FAA had already approved the proposal to land seaplanes in the Fort Point and other areas of the harbor off South Boston, with flight paths that include City Point and Castle Island. Cape Air representatives Andrew Bonney and Elysse Magnotto-Cleary gave a presentation, highlighting factors such as day-time only operation, preference of flying over water, open to the public and flight operations away from the city, as being favorable and distinct from helicopter service. The also indicated that both the US Coast Guard Waterways Management Division and The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) ‘did not object’.

It is important to note that, while the company is only just now meeting with the South Boston neighborhood, in the fall of 2016 Cape Air requested and received initial approval from federal agencies including the Army Corps, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Coast Guard, according to a October 11, 2016 letter of reply from the Army Corps to Mr. Bonney..  

When pressed for details on who Cape Air had dealt with prior to obtaining approval, Cape Air indicated that they had spoken with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ed Markey, the Mayor’s office and the South Boston elected officials and several City Councilors. Elected officials characterized any contact as introductory only. Senator Nick Collins, Councilor Michael Flaherty and others had advised them over a year ago to meet with the community and go through the public process and their offices had not heard back from them since.

State Representative David Biele attended the public meeting and he faced and responded to the anger coming from those in attendance. Other elected officials were represented by staff.  Rep. Biele stated that he has not signed off on the seaplane proposal. He expressed his frustration that he had only learned about the proposal in a recent newspaper article and had asked Cape Air to meet with the South Boston community. He went on to criticize Cape Air’s outreach in coming before the South Boston community only after obtaining FAA approval. He then pressed Cape Air representatives on what additional permits are needed, and stated his office was investigating permitting and oversight at the state level.

Residents in attendance expressed surprise and suspicion that this type of air service, as in the case of controversial corporate helicopter proposals in the past, that would naturally warrant more detailed scrutiny, was being represented as a ‘done deal’. These types of air travel services are unique to corporate perquisites and tourist excursions but have no inherent benefit to the South Boston neighborhood. One of the concerns is the reliance on the experience of the pilots to cope with the extremely active harbor that includes not only jet air travel above, but amateur sailboat operators, power boats, ferries, cruise ships, tankers and excursion boats.

Many calls were made to the offices of local elected officials. The following statements were made by those officials.  

Senator Nick Collins stated, “Any suggestion that I am in support of Cape Air’s efforts to operate seaplanes in the South Boston Waterfront is flat out false. In fact, I have serious concerns about their efforts to avoid transparency and scrutiny, as they pursue the ability to operate a business that they are not in. It begs the question, what do thy not want us to know?”

Representative Biele followed up with, “It is unacceptable that Cape Air engaged the South Boston community only after receiving approval from the FAA. If the company won’t be up front while seeking approvals, how will the company conduct itself afterwards? I can’t support an organization that shows such disrespect for the community I represent.”

City Councilors Michael Flaherty, Edward Flynn and Michelle Wu, all of whom were referenced by Cape Air representatives as having been met with, stated the following.

Michael Flaherty stated, “I attended a meeting with the South Boston Delegation and Cape Air Representatives nearly a year ago. At that meeting, no commitments or endorsements were made to Cape Air. As I do with everyone who approaches me with a project, concept or idea, I specifically told the proponents to go out to the community and meet with the civic associations and talk to my neighbors.”

Flaherty continued, “I am extremely disappointed to learn that Cape Air came out to the South Boston community after they had already secured approval from the Federal Aviation Agency — and 8 months after they engaged the East Boston community about their project. Our community deserves a legitimate opportunity to provide feedback about a project that will impact their quality of life, especially with a loading and landing dock in their neighborhood and particularly in light of the ongoing development the community continues to endure. Just as I led the opposition to the helipad, I will again stand with the community to ensure their voices heard loud and clear.” 

Ed Flynn said, “As the District City Councilor and a Veteran of the US Navy for nearly 25 years, I’m opposed to the proposal of seaplanes due to public safety concerns regarding flight patterns over the neighborhood of South Boston, as well as maritime concerns. Moreover, I will not support projects that lack transparency and a strong community process. The people of South Boston deserved the same opportunity to weigh in on quality of life issues as other communities received. I believe our focus should remain on public safety facilities, basic city services, a library, and community space; not an airport on the South Boston Waterfront.”

Michelle Wu stated, “Our focus shouldn’t be on fast tracking sea plane when regular people cant get to work on time because of crushing traffic and crowded buses and trains that don’t come often enough.

Michelle Wu stated, “ I have very serious concerns about this sea planes proposal, especially after the neighborhood recently rallied to share concerns about how a helipad would affect the community. I learned of this proposal from a constituent and sent a staff member to represent me at the Harbor Front Neighborhood Alliance meeting a few weeks ago, after which she  exchanged emails with Cape Air about finding a time to talk, but I have not had a conversation with them, and look to share my concerns directly. I have spoken with members of the South Boston delegation and stand with them in demanding transparency and meaningful opportunity for community members to weigh in. Finally, it is concerning that the FAA will be the only agency with oversight over flight times and frequencies, especially because they have a poor track record of addressing Boston residents’ concerns. We are still dealing with the impacts of their decision to concentrate flight paths over a very narrow range of houses across certain Boston neighborhoods.”