I walked along the harbour shoreline in Victoria to go and see some of the floatplanes in operation. The planes have to take off and “land” in the outer area of the harbour so they are a bit away from the easiest spots to watch things from when they are most active. I saw a couple of planes making their approach. They came in through the entrance to the harbour before making the turn to line up for landing. A nice arc to final approach and then touching down to be at water taxi speed by the time the entered the restricted area of the harbour itself. Fun to watch and I could have spent plenty of time there on a sunny afternoon!
As Bombardier has decided to remove itself from a number of its legacy aviation programs, Viking Aerospace has been willing to step in. It acquired the rights for a number of legacy de Havilland Canada products first and put the DHC-6 Twin Otter back into production. Since then it has acquired the CL215/415 amphibious waterbomber program and very recently the Dash-8/Q400 program. It has its headquarters at Victoria International so, after getting off the ferry and having a spot of lunch, we swung by to have a look. They have a very nice, modern headquarters building which stands out amongst the other airport buildings.
I took a look on the ramp. Their demonstrator Twin Otter was parked up along with a couple of clean airframes that looked like they were destined for new customers. A CL-215 was parked a bit further out. I discovered shortly afterwards that this one is about to undergo an upgrade program. There were plenty of people going in and out of the offices but the ramp was sadly quiet. No movements while I was there although we had places to be so I didn’t hang around for long.
Often the floatplanes will come in to Victoria Harbour through the entrance to the harbor, touch down on the water and continue straight in to the base. However, if the wind is in the opposite direction, they sometimes make their approach across the city and the harbor itself. While we were there, I saw one Twin Otter coming in this direction. It made its final turn with the large hotel and apartment buildings behind it which made for a shot with more context than would otherwise be the case.
I was in Vancouver for a few days for work and I managed to catch up with my buddy Mark when I arrived. He suggested to me a good opportunity for shooting the floatplanes is at the end of the day from Brockton Point in Stanley Park. I had only shot them from the shore near the convention center (other than an opportunist shot or two while walking in the park and that doesn’t count) so I was interested to see how this location worked out. I managed to get out of work at a good time one evening and the weather was looking very nice so it was off to the park for me.
This location is a lot of fun. In the evening, the light is well positioned and, at this time of year, the sun is lower and the light is nice and just gets better and better as the evening sets in. The aircraft were arriving from the east so they were very distant but it is the departures that we were after. The planes head along the shore from the base and then turn towards you and start their run. Often, they are pointing straight at you for a while.
Depending on the type and the pilot, they can climb steeply or can keep it nice and low as they come by. Sometimes, there might be a boat on their preferred take off run and, since they have to divert to one side which can result in a nice turn back towards you as they round the point and head to Lion’s Gate. The Otters are the most common type with the Beavers coming second. There are still some Twin Otters but they are a lot less common than they used to be so they end up being more interesting when they show up. How can it be that I get complacent about seeing Otters on floats? (The fact we have them in Seattle too probably doesn’t help!)
Mark certainly called this one correctly. Brockton Point is a nice place to hang out on a sunny fall evening in any circumstances but the addition of a steady stream of floatplanes to this makes for a wonderful combination is you are someone like me. What’s more, it is a reliable option. Until the winter light stops flying at the end of the afternoon, you have scheduled departures to rely on so this is not a case of turning up in the hope of seeing something. You will definitely get plenty of planes.
A few years ago we spent some time in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Victoria has a lot of floatplane activity and, at the time, an airline called West Coast Air was operating with a large fleet of Twin Otters. Since that time, West Coast was taken over by Harbour Air. Harbour Air is the dominant operator at Vancouver. However, while we were there, we saw only one Twin Otter. A check online seems to suggest that they have focused more on the Otters and Beavers and reduced the Twin Otter fleet. I assume they are not so economical for the type of operations they undertake but, if anyone has any more information about what happened, pleas let me know.