Seaplanes will be taking to the skies in Mountshannon from Wednesday next as Harbour Flights Ireland Ltd are all clear for take-off.
This marks the first commercial seaplane flight in Ireland, since the Foynes flying boats era, and comes after five years of planning involving approval from up to eight organisations.
Although test flights have already taken place from the Mountshannon seaplane base, next Wednesday commercial flights will be fully operational travelling out over Lough Derg where three types of scenic flights are available.
The options include a 20 minute scenic flight out over Lough Derg, a 40 minute flight taking in castles in the region, and a further one hour flight taking in The Cliffs of Moher.
Other routes will be coming on stream over the next couple of months covering a range of locations across the country with routes to Foynes, Galway and Dublin expected to begin in 2013. Further expansion to destinations including Cobh, Limerick City, and Kinsale are expected thereafter.
Speaking about lift-off next week, Harbour Flights CEO, Emelyn Heaps said the seaplane base will offer a significant tourism base for the locality and will help build on tourism products already there.
“After nearly five years since its conception to take off we will have the launch of the first commercial flight next Wednesday. It will make a huge change to tourism in East Clare. It’s the first commercial seaplane flight ever in Ireland, so history will be made next week. Mountshannon will now have two fantastic tourist attractions, the sea eagles and harbour flights. We want to encourage and increase tourism into the West and that’s our mission,” Mr Heaps outlined.
He added that in spite of all the negativity in the current economy the project received backing at every stage in the process from Government with up to eight organisations giving it the green light.
“Despite of all of the negativity with the country, if you look at all the government departments that had to come together to make this happen it shows they are willing to encourage innovative ideas. Between Clare County Council, An Bord Pleanála, the Department of Fisheries, Waterways Ireland, Inland Fisheries, the Department of Environment, Irish Aviation Authority, the National Parks and Wildlife Service were all involved and if any one of those said ‘no’, we wouldn’t be here today. We are convinced that it is a unique tourism product which can only drive tourists into the area,” he added.
Currently, just one aircraft will operate from Mountshannon but it is expected that the fleet will increase rapidly over the next couple of months as demand picks up and other routes are put in place.
“We will have 20 minute scenic flights over Lough Derg and we hope locals and tourists alike will avail of this. They will run every 30 minutes or so. We have a 20 minute scenic Lough Derg flight, a 40 minute tour of the castles from the air and a 60 minute tour over the Cliffs of Moher and back. This is at the beginning and in the next couple of months we will progression into our new bases at Foynes, Galway and Dublin initially,” Mr Heaps said.
Harbour Flights are also hoping for grant assistance which would enable them to expand the operation further in the coming months.
In addition, another welcome development was the use of the seaplane base in case of emergency following its use by the Medevac helicopter recently after a tourist was involved in an equestrian accident.