At the Global Superyacht Forum in November last year, chairman of Dornier Seawings Conrado Dornier presented the company’s Seastar seaplane. Outlining its many benefits, Dornier suggested that this form of transportation is likely to become more popular in the coming years.
“We’ve neglected how suitable the sea is as a runway,” explains Dornier, before making a direct comparison between the Seastar – which can carry two crew and 12 guests – and an equivalent helicopter. “A helicopter of that size would be a Sikorsky S-76 or an Airbus Dauphin and would cost about USD 12 million, whereas our Seastar costs USD seven million. Then there are the running costs, which are a third of that of an equivalent helicopter.”
It is a compelling argument that, together with customer demand for a twin-engine turboprop, drove Dornier to develop the Seastar in the early 1980s. With European and US certification obtained, a first for an all-composite commercial aircraft, production began on the seaplane but was halted in 1991 due to a lack of funding.
With investment from the Chinese government, a majority shareholder, production has resumed, with the first aircraft due for delivery at the end of 2017. The first batch of Seastar seaplanes consists of six units with each subsequent batch to be doubled in number. Dornier confirms that interest from the yachting market has been good so far, with two signed orders received in 2015 from yacht owners.
“Obviously we have adapted the design from when we first developed it and the aircraft will be thoroughly modernised, but we are using the grandfather rights for certification,” says Dornier.
Ensuring that the Seastar is equipped with the latest mod cons and operational systems is one thing, but it is also important that the exterior reflects elegance and style. Over the past six years, the market has been introduced to a handful of toys to get owners into the air. And while the Seastar is a practical airplane, it shows its age when compared with the latest generation of designs. However, with a greater range, speed and lower running costs than a helicopter, a seaplane can provide an owner with a great deal of flexibility, making it an interesting alternative for a potential buyer.
We discuss the topic further in The Superyacht Owner Issue 21, which is out at the end of February 2016. Click here to find how to get your copy.