Seaplanes to land in Norwich Harbor Saturday and Sunday

Norwich — If you’re in downtown Norwich or somewhere along the Thames River area this weekend, don’t be alarmed when a small plane descends onto the river. It’s supposed to do that.

Tropic Ocean Airways, based in Fort Lauderdale and with a fleet of eight-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan amphibious seaplanes in Caldwell, N.J., will make four trips to Norwich Harbor Saturday and four more on Sunday. The planes will shuttle VIP patrons of the Barrett-Jackson auto auction at the Mohegan Sun Casino to and from the event via the Marina at American Wharf.

Two flights will arrive from New York City, a 40-minute trip, and two will come from Farmingdale, N.J., a 45-minute flight. The planes are scheduled to land in Norwich Harbor at 9:45 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., weather permitting.

Since Tropic Ocean Airways’ planes are all amphibious, if the weather and visibility are poor, the planes will go to the Groton-New London Airport in Groton, said Scott Young, director of sales for the airline.

“We’ve just had all the support in the world from the city of Norwich — the mayor’s office, police department, fire department,” Young said Friday.

Young said it was important to make sure local authorities and the public know that the seaplanes are coming to the harbor, so people won't think a plane is about to crash in the harbor.

Young said the company started exploring possible service to southeastern Connecticut and specifically to Mohegan Sun Casino about 18 months ago. Because of the freight rail tracks between the Thames River and Mohegan Sun, passengers could not disembark directly at the casino.

Company officials met with Norwich city officials, police and fire department representatives, and marina staff and discussed safe approaches to the harbor. In October, they tried it out.

“We took some executives from Mohegan Sun for a sightseeing tour,” Young said.

“We’re excited about this opportunity,” Mayor Peter Nystrom said Friday. “We’re hoping to have the harbor become a destination for seaplanes. It’s a way as establishing our harbor as a destination.”

He said while the trips this weekend are tied to the Barrett-Jackson auction, they are coming to Norwich during a busy weekend of events. The Rose Arts Festival will take place all day Saturday at the Chelsea Parade and in the evening with music venues throughout downtown.

“This is the kind of event that could be happening every single weekend here, weather permitting,” Nystrom said.

Young said city officials asked many “great questions” about logistics and safety during their meetings and found no hindrances. No specific permits are needed for the seaplane to land in the harbor, city officials said.

Young said Tropic Ocean Airways is a rapidly growing business that provides customers with a way to get to popular and difficult destinations without dealing with the traffic congestion on Northeast and Florida highways. The company also takes passengers to remote islands in the Bahamas and Caribbean.

The company was founded nine years ago by former Navy F-14 fighter pilot Robert Ceravolo. It started with one four-seater seaplane in Florida. The company now has 13 amphibious planes and more than 100 employees in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area and the New York City area.

“The world is our runway” is the new line the company trademarked. "That really says it all,” Young said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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