PROVINCETOWN — Just before Memorial Day, Tailwind Air added Provincetown to its roster of seaplane destinations. The eight-passenger, two-pilot Cessnas fly from the East 23rd Street seaport on Manhattan’s East River to the Boston Harbor seaport and then to Provincetown Airport on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings. Then they fly the same route in reverse on Sunday afternoon and Monday and Tuesday mornings.
Tailwind had originally planned to land in Provincetown Harbor, with passengers deplaning to a water taxi that would take them to the Provincetown Marina. Tailwind’s co-founder and vice president Peter Manice told the Independent that, while those arrangements proved too complex to pull together this year, the company still plans to be taking off from and landing in Provincetown Harbor next year.
“For years we just served Manhattan to the Hamptons, primarily East Hampton, Montauk, and Shelter Island,” Manice said. “The big thing that happened for our company last summer is we became the first and only aircraft operator to be approved for landings in Boston Harbor.”
The Manhattan to Boston route began last August, which opened up the possibility of an onward route to Provincetown. Flights from the East River to Boston Harbor run from March to December, while the Provincetown stop is scheduled from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.
That could be extended in the future. “It’s in our interest to serve more than just the summer,” Manice said. “We have to have an audience, but to the extent people begin to rely on our service, April to December is certainly in our operating season.”
The direction of takeoff and landing in the harbor would vary based on wind, but Manice said landing in a harbor like Provincetown’s is less complicated than it might sound.
“The East River Basin where we take off from 23rd Street, it’s surrounded by giant buildings, bridges on both sides, commercial ferries, cargo boats, recreational traffic, and many other seaplanes as well,” said Manice. “And helicopters are taking off and landing. It’s all a choreographed dance.
“Provincetown, truthfully, is pretty straightforward,” Manice added. “It really won’t be obtrusive to existing marine traffic.”
Manice said the company has corresponded with Provincetown’s harbormaster and town manager but hasn’t met them in person. The Provincetown route was added on “relatively short notice,” Manice said, but the company is planning to work with the town in the off-season to facilitate water landings next year.
“Our pilots do this all day long,” said Manice. “Recreational boats really don’t need to do anything — the aircraft will avoid them. Nothing is going to show up out of the fog and land on top of your head.”
In the meantime, the connection to Provincetown Airport has been working quite well, Manice said. One of the company’s key selling points is the ability to avoid large commercial airports like JFK, LaGuardia, and Logan. Taking off from the water is nice, but skipping the large-airport experience is the real draw.
Provincetown Airport is so small that it doesn’t detract from the passenger’s experience, Manice added. When weather conditions are poor, however, the planes fly into the private aviation terminal at Logan and to the White Plains Airport just north of New York City.
The route from Manhattan to Provincetown has been successful so far, Manice said. “It’s been quite well received, especially by New Yorkers,” he said. “Next year, we plan to have more aircraft in our fleet and provide, likely, a daily service, if not more than that.”
Tickets from New York to Provincetown start at $799. A 10-ticket commuter pass locks in a price of $858 for each of 10 tickets, even if the last available seats would sell for more than that.
Seaplanes vs. Jets
On a cultural level, the connection between New York and Provincetown is not new. The Provincetown Players, who included such luminaries as Eugene O’Neill and Mary Heaton Vorse, opened the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village in 1916, only two miles from the current location of the Skyport Marina.
The trip between the two places, however, has always been rather arduous. Less than two hours is something new.
“Provincetown is a difficult place to get to,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr. “Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard feel very much like the Outer Cape, especially on the beaches, but the difference is the air traffic. Nantucket is the second-busiest airport in New England in the summer.”
Nantucket’s three runways range from 3,100 to 6,300 feet and handle a huge volume of corporate and private jets. Provincetown’s single runway is only 3,500 feet, and it is hemmed in by Race Point Road and the tidal flats of Hatch’s Harbor. It is also one of only two airports inside the National Park system, along with Jackson Hole airport in Wyoming.
Airport commission member Steve Katsurinis said there are no active plans to lengthen the runway to allow for regional jets.
“We’re already talking about having to raise the airport because of sea level rise,” said Katsurinis. “It’s precisely the places where you would try to expand that are going to be underwater.”
Commuting by seaplane is certainly something new — and the demand may not be limited to summer. When it comes to corporate jets, however, it’s the supply that matters, and the supply of runway here remains permanently constrained.