If you’ve ever wondered how to get a seaplane base certified you’ll want to have a look at how Paul Jackson has gone, and is still going through, the process.
Having owned many different airplanes over the years, I have noticed that the right plane seems to find you at the right time. I had no interest in aerobatics and owning a biplane until my look at a pooch of a Cherokee Six for a friend led me to a dust covered Christen Eagle near Orlando. “Make him an offer and I bet he would bite” were that famous last words I was told before I was doing inverted flat spins on weekends.
I thought that logic only applied to airplanes but I recently found it applies to Seaplane Bases. I was tire kicking the cabin market in northern Minnesota , not really serious, but more getting a feel for what I could get for what I was willing to spend. A hopeful Real Estate agent and I spent most of the afternoon looking at great examples of what dry rot can do to logs. We most decidedly weren’t making good use of the 50 gallons of 100LL this trip was costing me.
The agent who had picked me up at the airport had an epiphany and said “Hey, you’re a pilot aren’t you?” Well the Baron on the ramp must have given me away and I said “yes, I am in fact a certificated airman”. We apparently can add real estate agents to used car salesman as the last 2% of the population that is impressed with being a pilot. “I know a guy with a Seaplane Base that is isn’t on the market but he is looking to sell, do you want to see the place?”
I tried to act nonchalant about this offer and as we drove. He told me how this old couple wanted to move south and that no one valued this property properly due to its unique set up. Upon inspection the cabin was nice and very well kept, the two car heated shop and two car garage were nice, as was the extra lot to the north. OK, play hard to get, in through the nose out through the mouth and frown and shake your head often. I was doing my best hard sell when I looked in the distance to the south barely in view was a nice simple single place hangar and aircraft tie down space with a seaplane ramp to the lake.
I walked the airport end of the property and tried not to look like Judge Reinhold ogling Phoebe Cates (doesn’t anyone frigging knock?). My wife noted later that from my initial description of the place we bought a hangar and got some land and a cabin with it.
As we drove back to the airport the agent leaned in and said, “make him an offer I bet he would bite” Déjà vu and poof I became a Seaplane Base owner. Or so I think.
The State certificate hanging in the entry way of the cabin said, “Kivi-Mokki Airport” and it is dated in the early 1980’s. I did some web searches and indeed Kivi-Mokki comes up and it is designated as 17MN and the airport manager is listed as the owner of the cabin prior to the non-seaplane people I bought the place from. He is long deceased and a quick call to the state brings no record of the airport or the license in their records. Square one with the state of Minnesota.
The FAA labyrinth is just as fruitless in my hopes of a simple resurrection of old 17MN. I had a conversation with a nice lady from the Dakota-Minnesota Airports District Office whom I found after noodling around the FAA regional site and making a few calls. She gave me the simple instructions to complete some forms and submit them to their office for a review the landing area proposal. Being a type A I forget to ask which forms and am forced back to the web to look for more help.
At this point I ask myself is this worth it? Why go through the paperwork jungle to designate my place as a Seaplane Base? I can land and take off from the lake with no restrictions without the Seaplane Base designation. The only real visible perk (though it’s a cool one) is the identifying of the base on a Sectional.
After a few Johnny Walker’s I have my answer. Let me get on a soapbox for just a moment. If we seaplane pilots don’t start making a mark and working with our communities at the local government level seaplanes could be regulated out of existence. All politics are local and by certifying the base and working through the FAA, State, and local agencies I am putting seaplanes on the map literally and figuratively for our local government. We have to keep our place in our community or we will lose it and quite possibly the privileges that go with it.
FAA Advisory Circular AC 150/5395-1A on Seaplane Bases is my first read. This is a great resource and I used it to help complete the FAA Form 7480-1 Notice of Landing Area Proposal. It discusses many of the considerations and techniques for establishing a seaplane base.
The FAA forms are pretty easy to complete and the local Airports District Office had some simple questions about the site and the area. I provided them a google map depicting a proposed seaplane and noted any obstructions distance and direction from the base. They had some concern as there was another seaplane base 5 NM north of me and the local airport was only 8 NM southeast.
Luckily that traffic vortex of 10 operations a week was sorted out and within 30 days I had a Determination of Landing Area Proposal from the Airports District Office. Progress! While that was fast and painless my final approval and designation with an official identifier is still in process. 30 days has now turned into 4 months with no news.
The next hurdle is the State of Minnesota. I called their Aeronautics office and they said that I could apply but until I get the official airport identifier they can’t process my application with them. With the identifier created they will give me an on-site inspection to insure that I comply with State guidelines.
One hurdle I didn’t expect was submitting a performance chart for an aircraft “of intended use” to show I wouldn’t be removing TV antennas and chimneys on departure. I was able to source a float equipped Cessna 180 takeoff chart to calculate a water run and climb over a 50 foot obstacle in my paperwork.
The equipment for a private seaplane base in Minnesota is pretty minimal as you can see below in the license guidance. I went windsock shopping at Oshkosh this year and I am now the proud owner of 20 B rated fire extinguisher. I don’t expect to run towards fires now, but I guess having one around is never a bad idea.
When I get the state box checked my last group of friends to make is at the local level. I perused the local ordinances and yes in fact it takes a “Conditional Use Permit” to operate an airport/seabase (their term not mine) in my county. I pulled the paperwork for the permit and a conditional use permit is $650. The price of my soapbox just went up.
I also have to appear at a County Board meeting on a “very convenient for a cabin owner” Tuesday night. I will be repeating much of the detail from the other applications in terms of google map depictions and I also am waiting for final Federal and State approval to have in hand at the local Board meeting. My application for the permit contains a narrative on seaplane safety and I also address noise abatement in the presentation. These are two items that likely will come up.
While I wait for the wheel of government to grind and designate Jackson Seaplane Base as official I am working on my floating dock and buying blue barrels off Craigslist. I am also looking to get out of my current aircraft, a T-6 Texan, and into a plane that floats for longer than a few minutes. I won’t look too hard; I have a feeling a lonely old float plane will find me soon enough. They always do…
Paul Jackson is a 20,000 hour ATP and CFI with a SES rating. He holds type ratings in the B-737 and Be-1900. He resides in Chaska, MN and summers at an almost Seaplane Base in McGregor, MN. He is the host of the nationally broadcast aviation show “The Flightline” which is now available on iTunes and Google Play.