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Freedom Without Impact: Amphibious Aircraft

Kevin Baird

As many travelers know, some of the most beautiful places on the planet are in hard to reach locations. Remote areas in the Bahamas, for instance, often contain the cleanest beaches, best fishing, and most desirable natural landscapes. But most who seek out these areas do so because of what nature has created and preserving that is of the upmost importance.

That’s the premise behind Tropic Ocean Airways.

“We utilize amphibious aircraft to create connectivity,” Tropic Ocean Airways CEO Rob Ceravolo said. “If you think about the Bahamas, there’s roughly 700 islands and only a fraction of them have airports. There’s no great way to get to certain locations. We can create air service to change that.”

Ceravolo’s company provides air service that doesn’t require airports or runways. In fact, all he needs is a dock. Tropic Ocean Airways operates amphibious GRAND CARAVAN EX turboprops and Ceravolo says the stereotypes around seaplanes from decades ago are far from what expeditioners will see today. Ceravolo’s company boasts factory new Textron Aviation turboprops that provide comfort along with adventure.

“Most seaplane companies fly older 1950 aircraft for their customers, but our market is focused on people who want to have a pleasant experience. The Grand Caravan EX carries a lot of weight, even on floats. It’s faster than all the others. Your cost per seat mile actually goes down if you put two Grand Caravan EX’s on a route compared to just one other aircraft. Plus, you’re carrying more people. Everybody gets a window seat. It’s just a cool experience and it’s a very capable, reliable airplane,” Ceravolo said.

"You get to places quickly. Most seaplanes are around 100 knots. You’re doing 160 knots in a seaplane which is crazy, and you’re doing it in air-conditioned comfort."Rob Ceravolo, Tropic Ocean Airways CEO

Tropic Ocean Airways hosts trips from New York to the Hampton’s that take 35 minutes in an amphibious Grand Caravan EX turboprop. Ceravolo said the company launched a domestic Bahamian airline connecting Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands as well. While there’s no limitation to the options available, Ceravolo says the company’s focus is creating connectivity.

“We can take you and seven of your friends to one of the most remote places in the Bahamas to go fishing. We’ll land you in the middle of nowhere with three fishing guides that show up. They’ll take you fishing and in three hours, we’ll come pick you up. Or we can take you to a remote area and let you go kiteboarding downwind. We’ll pick you up 20 miles from where we dropped you. That adventure travel exists, and seaplanes really open that up,” he said.


But Ceravolo knows that with the natural beauty that comes with areas of the world like the Bahamas, the need for preservation is at the forefront. Most of the islands in the Bahamas do not have airports or air strips at all. The cost and impact of putting them in is eliminated when a much more inexpensive dock does the trick.

“Think about how intrusive that is on the environment,” Ceravolo said. “What we do is very light touch. We’re like a boat. You stick a dock somewhere and you’re preserving that area. It helps these other islands become more environmentally conscious.”

"You get to see these really remote areas that are so beautiful without having a big environmental impact."Rob Ceravolo, Tropic Ocean Airways CEO


While it may appear that traveling to remote islands of the Bahamas via private aircraft is only reserved for those who are willing to spend significantly, Ceravolo said many are surprised with how affordable many of the trips are. He said when compared to the time and money it takes to get to these destinations via commercial air and land, a private flight is not a massive increase.

“If you think it’s cheaper to just buy a commercial airline ticket to Nassau and then take a puddle jumper over to an island, by the time you pay for the flight and the cab or a boat and another flight and spend the maybe six or seven hours it takes to get to your location, you could pay 20 or 30 percent more to get you there in 45 minutes,” Ceravolo said as an example. “Our prices are comparable to first class per seat tickets.

“It is very accessible. It’s that time equals money thing. People will pay a bit more for the experience and they get their vacation back.”

In addition, with options for management of aircraft at Tropic Ocean Airways, Ceravolo said people looking to invest in aviation have options.

“With an airplane, if the investment seems too overwhelming for one person, you can get a management company like us that will crew it, take care of it and put it to work if you’d like. That’ll help offset the cost. It’s turnkey for them and they don’t have to lift a finger. That’s one of the bigger challenges of a new owner. How do we fly it and how do we maintain it? And that problem can be solved for them,” he said.


For Tropic Ocean Airways, it’s all about opening the world to people and doing so in a very accessible and environmentally friendly manner. And Ceravolo says Textron Aviation has been there since the beginning.

Ceravolo started this company when he was a pilot for the United States Navy. He said he was selling everything he had to purchase a pre-owned Cessna STATIONAIR piston as he couldn’t afford a factory new aircraft.

“I went to a used aircraft dealer who was working with me until he found out that I wasn’t wealthy. I was a broke Navy pilot who was selling his house and the guy stopped returning my calls. It was around the same time that I met Textron Aviation Regional Sales Director Kelly Spaulding. He said, ‘I know you can’t afford a new 206. But let me take you to lunch and let’s talk about it.’ He gave me the time of day even though he knew I wasn’t going to buy from him,” Ceravolo said.

And though at the time, Ceravolo didn’t purchase from Textron Aviation, once he raised the capital to begin purchasing CARAVAN turboprops, he said he went right back to Spaulding.

“I passed the local dealer who sells Caravans and went straight to Kelly and straight to Textron Aviation,” Ceravolo said. I’ve never forgotten that.”

Ceravolo says he considers his company to be like an airline that lands on water. Given the comfort and capability of Textron Aviation aircraft, the beautiful landscapes of areas like the Bahamas and a team that works hard for its customers every day, he says he’s in the perfect position to find solutions for customers who otherwise would be stuck on land.