Northwest NEWS

May 17, 1999

Front Page

Kenmore Air gearing up for busy summer

Kenmore Air

Kenmore Air flight instructor James Finton, 25, with a deHavilland Beaver.
Staff photo by Lisa Allen.

by Lisa Allen, Valley View editor

   KENMORE--Floatplanes from Kenmore Air will probably not be flying out of Elliott Bay this summer, but the company has added a variety of trip packages to its schedule and foresees a busy season, according to public affairs director Tim Brooks.

   For the last couple of years, the seaplane operation, which is based at the north end of Lake Washington, has been seeking permission from the city of Seattle to operate sightseeing flights from Ivar's at Pier 54 on the waterfront. The proposal sparked considerable opposition from ferry officials, business people, and residents concerned about noise and safety.

   But Brooks said the company feels the situation would be manageable, considering the amount of takeoff room available in Elliott Bay, compared to Lake Union and Victoria Harbor. Kenmore Air has a satellite base on Lake Union and flies daily to Victoria and the San Juan Islands.

   "The proposal is literally up in the air, but we may get permission for next summer," he said, explaining that the City Council has added another layer of review and won't make a determination until after the end of the first full season of operation on the waterfront. In the meantime, he said, Seattle has placed a moratorium on any proposed new seaplane operations on Elliott Bay.

   Kenmore Air had hoped to add the sightseeing flights to fill in the gaps from the decline in Canadian fishing over recent years, but Brooks said some limits have been lifted due to an expected increase in salmon runs.

   "We anticipate an active summer, especially with Canadian fishing improving dramatically," Brooks said. "We already have some bookings for fishing resorts."

   Kenmore Air has also jumped on the "ecotourism" bandwagon, with its whale and bear watching adventure excursions. This year, the company added sea kayaking and Butchart Gardens package tours, and for the first time, regularly scheduled sightseeing tours will take off from Lake Union at 10:15 and 1:15 daily. Sightseeing is booked through Gray Line Tours. Special dinner trips are also available.

   The company uses four different types of float planes, but since the 1960s, the backbone of the fleet has been the sturdy deHavilland Beaver, favored by Alaska and Canadian bush pilots.

   The last new production Beaver was built in 1967, but the plane proved to be so popular that Kenmore Air began to recondition them to sell and for their own use. The sideline business proved so successful the planes are now widely known as "Kenmore Beavers."

   Even actor Harrison Ford, a pilot himself, purchased a deHavilland Beaver from Kenmore Air several months ago and had it flown to his Montana ranch, Brooks said.

   Ford reportedly got the aviation bug after starring in the film Six Days, Seven Nights, which featured a deHavilland Beaver. Brooks said Ford made several trips to Kenmore Air to oversee the progress of the plane.

   "He's a very unassuming guy," Brooks said, adding that the firm replaced the plane's floats with wheels and had it barged to Renton Field, where it was picked up by Ford's corporate pilot.