Note: This story has been updated with comment from the company and additional details.
Seaplane operator Tailwind Air generated a lot of excitement earlier this spring when it first teased service from the East River in New York City to Washington, DC. That hype grew further when the initial announcement came, with service planned for College Park Airport, inside the DC Beltway. Alas, just days before the service launch, the carrier has quietly shifted its plans. Tailwind’s DC flights will now operate to and from Dulles airport.
The route will also take a two week delay, inaugurating on 27 September rather than the 13th.
In acknowledging the changed route and schedule, EVP and head of scheduled services Peter Manice explained, “The intents were all there. We wanted to fly to College Park. We complied with all the published regulations and programs with entering the [restricted DC airspace] zone. We learned about additional considerations that, essentially, are not published. We want to cooperate with those.”
He further suggested that some of the rules associated with operating the flights were not initially understood because College Park has not seen commercial service in so long, and no one expected it would. So the post-9/11 policy changes did not account for how that would operate at the airport.
Manice is also optimistic the company will find a way to eventually serve College Park. He notes that the local community, including the airport operator, is “super excited about working with us.” He also believes the strong initial demand the company saw will hold over even with a delay in serving College Park.
All customers have been informed and refunds offered to those affected. Manice notes the company is “Very regretful that we weren’t able to do what we promised.”
The original story continues below
The company issued and then retracted a press release about the change. An archived copy of the release offers the following explanations:
“Our original intent was to launch from College Park Airport. Launching from IAD allows us more time to work through additional considerations around scheduled service from new gateways into the Washington, D.C., area. We aim to offer service from multiple departure points in the DC area,” says Tailwind Air CEO Alan Ram.
“We are confident that our Washington area IAD service will resonate well with our customers and are looking forward to providing this unique service. The ability to take off from a private terminal at a major international airport and land on the water in Manhattan will be a time-saving benefit for our customers,” said Tailwind Air Executive Vice President Peter Manice.
The carrier also revised the schedule, dropping to eight weekly frequencies in each direction from the originally announced ten. The afternoon departure from Manhattan and following morning return from Dulles will no longer fly on Tuesday/Wednesday and Wednesday/Thursday.
Service at Dulles will operate from either the Signature or Jet Aviation FBO. The website contains references to both; presumably only one is correct. Passengers will still receive free parking at the terminal.
The website also previously referenced a “Tailwind Air amenity kit” for passengers. That is no longer included on the website.
A last minute shift in the airport being served is rarely good news for an airline or passengers. And the two airports are more than an hour apart (without traffic) on opposite sides of the District. At a minimum, this shift dramatically changes the target market of customers on the DC end of the journey. And it puts the company back into direct competition with commercial airlines.
Even with the FBO operations the shift in markets changes the convenience equation. For those keen to ride Metro to or from their flight and skip the traffic, The FBO option at Dulles is much less convenient, even once the Silver Line finally opens. And the travel time to various key downtown businesses will be notably longer from Dulles than it would have been at College Park, or it will be at DCA. Of course, travel time to businesses at or near Dulles improves, so maybe that helps.
The company remains confident that its differentiated service style will continue to attract regular travelers. As Manice previously described, “It is not just saving time. Speed is something we emphasize a lot. But our passengers also benefit from the reduced stress and uncertainty that we provide.”
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