Forklifting this Beaver to its parking spot for the night
Kenmore Air is the world’s second largest seaplane operator, with their main base of operations located just northeast of Seattle (in Kenmore) and just a few miles away from where I live. I have had a few opportunities to fly their seaplanes, but I have always been wanting to take a closer look at their operations and learn a bit more about how they keep their 18 seaplanes going.
Multiple planes are being worked on inside Kenmore Air’s new hangar
When I heard that they just recently opened up a brand-new maintenance hangar, I figured that this would be a great excuse to get a behind-the-scenes tour. I went in, not fully knowing what to expect, but found out quite a bit about the planes, the facility, and the people that make it all happen.
Beautiful Kenmore Air de Havilland Canada Beaver seaplane (N6781L)
Flying in a seaplane is one of the coolest things I have done. Add in that we were flying over the San Juan Islands on a sunny, yet smokey (bunch of fires from Canada) day and it was amazing. A few months back I had the opportunity to fly around Seattle with Mary Kirby on one of Kenmore Air’s scenic tours, but I wanted to look at the other services that they provide as well.
If you are in the Seattle area, you might have heard of Kenmore Air, but think of them as the “seaplane airline.” Heck, they have that saying posted on a billboard outside their Lake Union terminal and on their shuttle. However, they also fly a fleet of Cessna Caravans with wheels, not floats. The land-based service they market as “Kenmore Air Express” and it provides more options for passengers.
I wanted to take a look at their operation first hand, so worked with them to set up a flight on a Caravan from Boeing Field up north stopping in Orcas Island and dropping me off at Friday Harbor. I was able to enjoy the sunny island weather for a few hours before heading back south on a de Havilland Canada Beaver to Lake Union.
Flying over the San Juans in a Kenmore Air Cessna Caravan with Pilot Tony!
As I have discussed previously, I love flying on small planes. When I wrote up my Horizon Air review raving how much I enjoyed flying on the Q400 turbo props, some questioned how smaller could be better? Flying at 600 feet in a seaplane through the San Juan islands is how! In the Caravan we flew at about 2,500 feet, which is pretty nice too, but lower does give a bit more of a thrill. The Caravans normally fly a bit higher, so if something does go wrong, they have that extra altitude to make it to an airport.
One of the benefits of Kenmore running a dual operation is to provide back up and I got to see it first hand. Kenmore will fly out of Friday Harbor both via the airport and from the local marina. They are only about 15 minutes apart by foot. When I was flying last Thursday, a land-based Caravan from Friday Harbor had a faulty battery. Instead of the passengers being stranded, they were shuttled over to the marina where one of Kenmore’s seaplanes met them and got them on their way.
Kenmore Air Express Cessna Caravan (N426KM) at Boeing Field (BFI)
Kenmore Air also provides a shuttle from Lake Union and Boeing Field down to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). They have scheduled seaplane and land-based flights to 28 destinations throughout the Pacific Northwest and up into Canada. They also allow you to rent a charter flight or spend a few extra bucks for an unscheduled stop on a main-line route.
One of my favorite parts of flying Kenmore were the TSA security lines. Oh wait, there weren’t any! No body scanners, no putting your toiletries in plastic bags and no taking off your shoes. Go to the ticket counter, show your ID and you are welcome to hang out in their waiting room. From walking in the front doors at their terminal at Boeing Field to sitting waiting for my flight: 2 minutes. Yea, that is right…two minutes. I showed up 30 minutes before my flight (the suggested amount of time), but got to sit waiting for 28 minutes. They can start giving your seat away if you don’t arrive 15 minutes before departure, but I saw people arriving just minutes before take off; try that flying other airlines (okay really don’t, you will miss your flight).
Kenmore Air de Havilland Canada Beaver seaplane (N6781L) coming in for landing on Lake Union right by Seattle. That darn Canadian fire-haze!
It was very cool to fly on the turbo prop Caravan and compare it to the classic (aka older) Beaver. The Caravan was solid, quiet, newer and quicker. However, I would pick the Beaver any day! It is a beautiful airplane and I never mind a little extra noise for the sake of adventure. If you aren’t quite the enthusiast (or nerd) as I am, don’t worry, they will provide you with a set of ear plugs on the Beavers if you want. I got to sit in the co-pilot seat, but this is not something just reserved for media. Any passenger has the ability to request the seat up front to get a truly unique flying experience.
There were signs on ticket counters and the planes proudly displaying Kenmore’s new relationship with Alaska Airlines. Passengers earn 250 Alaska Airlines miles per flight and can also book Kenmore Air tickets through AlaskaAir.com.
Heck, you don’t need to visit someone to take one of their flights. A seaplane ride up to the San Juans for the day and flying back would make an awesome trip for any airplane enthusiast. Just make sure to bring your camera!
Additional Fun Stuff:
* 216 pictures of the day’s flights
* Video from Beaver front right seat of landing at Lake Union
* Video of the Cessna Caravan taking off from Boeing Field (check the new Boeings on the left)
* Video of Caravan’s turboprop start up at Orcas Island Airport (I love this start up)