Linus Romey, president of Pacific Seaflight, talks about his new mode of transportation, as a video of a demonstration model plays on the screen at the library. Jeff Brady

'Flying boat' due to debut in fall

Problems finding dock space out of wind in Skagway

By JEFF BRADY
Linus Romey grew up in Petersburg, Metlakatla, Juneau and Sitka and learned early on about the slow speed of ferries and the high cost of air travel between communities.
Now, after a career in the military and computers, he has come back to Southeast Alaska with a transportation alternative that he believes will change how we travel.
The physics of “wing-in ground effect” are not new, but the technology of applying it to public transportation are beginning to take off, Romey told an audience of about 20 people at the Skagway Library on April 5.
A video of a “Flightship FS-8” demonstration model in Australia showed how the “flying boat” lifts above the water, and flies at an altitude of no more than nine feet above the surface, in all kinds of weather.
“Growing up in Southeast, when I first saw this 10 years ago, I felt, yes, this is what we need,” he said.
Romey, who flew in the Austrailian demo last fall, plans to introduce two of them next fall in the Lynn Canal and Hoonah-Gustavus corridors, and eventually throughout the region. He is waiting on the selection by the German designer of an American contractor in Connecticut or Florida, is one of the first in line in the U.S., he said.
Under the Jones Act, to operate between U.S. ports he must have an Amreican-flagged vessel.
The audience had several questions about how the craft would handle in extreme weather conditions. Romey said the Flightships are designed, based on their wingspan, to fly up to nine feet high above the surface in 12-foot seas. However, like a float plane, it can’t take off or land in more than three-foot seas.
It can fly with just a 20-foot ceiling, he said, but audience members were worried about what would happen if it had to put down due to bad weather in six or seven-foot seas. Romey said the craft is rated to handle itself in open water and has been certified by shipping agencies, however the true test will be how it performs for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard will soon put the new fast ferry M/V Fairweather through tests, which he hopes will pave the way for his craft.
Some were also worried about possible impacts with breaching whales. Commercial fisherman Monte Mitchell said humpbacks breach a lot in Taiya Inlet and can surprise boats that are traveling just 10 knots.
The Flightships have a speed of up to 85 knots, but they have a collision avoidance system.
“Whale strikes are virtually impossible,” Romey said. “We’ll hit it about nine seconds after the meteor hits us, that’s how unlikely it is.”
A bigger worry right now, Romey said, is finding dock space in Skagway.
With its 50-foot wingspan, there is no room in the small boat harbor, so he is looking at the south end of the floating ferry dock. But to dock there, a floating breakwater would have to be installed to prevent wind-blown waves from pushing the craft into the cement dock.
Economics were also brought up, from having to wait until fall to start up, to the possible impact of fast ferries or a future road on traffic patterns in the region. Romey said he believes the Flightship will have an immediate market, those walk-on ferry travelers who can’t afford to fly and want easier access to Juneau. The Flightship would dock downtown in the capital city, he said.
He plans four trips a day in summer and two in winter between Juneau, Haines and Skagway. Cost would be $129 roundtrip between Juneau and Skagway, $50-$80 less than a flight. The Juneau-Skagway direct route time would be about 65 minutes. In addition to the pilot and navigator, they can carry eight passengers.

The ‘flying boat” in action. Pacific Seaflight

Romey plans to lease two of the Flightships in the fall with his $500,000 investment. This is more economical than purchasing them at $800,000 each, he said. Romey added that he has two partners, and his limited liability company, Pacific Seaflight, is selling shares in the open market for 25 percent of the venture.
For more information, visit their company’s Web site: www.pacificseaflight.com.