The Seaplane’s Second Act

After years of obsolescence, flying boats are experiencing a glamour-fuelled revival.

By Basem Wasef & Michael Verdon 03/04/2024

Decades before jetliners zigzagged across the planet at near supersonic speeds, a more genteel aircraft ruled the skies, designed to function in harmony with the 71 percent of the Earth that’s covered in water. Amphibious planes were among the first to bring a halo of panache to air travel, and not just thanks to their leisurely pace: many models, among them the Martin M-130 “China Clipper” and the Sikorsky S-40 “Flying Forest”, remain paragons of aircraft design. It was only after World War II triggered a sprawl of airports that commercial aviation veered from harbours and waterways to more efficient point-to-point solutions, rendering seaplanes all but obsolete. 

Yet like record players and film cameras, these retro machines are making a comeback, and it’s not hard to see why. Consider the once-ubiquitous Grumman Albatross, which counted as clientele everyone from Jimmy Buffett to the US Air Force’s search and rescue services. In a world in which commercial air travel grew exponentially over 50 years ago, its chunky, decidedly un-aerodynamic shape makes the Albatross seem saturated in the romance of a bygone era. 

The 2023 documentary Flying Boat, by director Dirk Braun, celebrates the cult of the Albatross and the intrepid appeal of being able to take off and land essentially anywhere in the world. “The Albatross is particularly unique because it’s so diversely capable and has arguably been to more places on Earth than any aircraft,” Braun says. 

Of the 466 examples of the Albatross built between 1947 and 1961, roughly a dozen remain operational, mostly in private hands. Braun’s fascination with the classic model led to his partnership in Amphibian Aerospace Industries, an Australian venture that purchased the blueprints to the original bird and plans to update the vintage airframes with modern avionics, as well as replace the radial engines with more efficient Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprop units. The firm’s ownership of the Albatross’s G-111 FAA Type Certificate promises a straightforward transition to commercial sales—think island resorts, aid agencies and private adventure seekers—at a starting cost that has yet to be determined. 

“With these upgrades and updates, it’s just going to be an unstoppable aircraft,” Braun claims, noting that he expects the Albatross 2.0 to roll off the production line in 2026. 

Other startups are developing electric variations on the theme, including the ElFly Group’s 13-passenger Noemi. Founder and CEO Eric Lithun grew up watching flying boats deliver mail and daily newspapers in Norway—until they didn’t. “They stopped during my childhood because it was no longer cost-effective,” he says. Electrification and tourism could change that. Battery-powered twin-engine concepts such as the Noemi could use sea terminals for routes such as Sydney to the Gold Coast, Cannes to Saint-Tropez, or Manhattan to the Hamptons. With current seaplane journeys averaging just over 80 km, Lithun says the genre is ripe for an electric solution. His prototype is expected to take flight in 2026. 

Sunset take off from Sydney Harbour IMAGE: Courtesy of

The outfit REGENT (Regional Electric Ground Effect Nautical Transport) takes a novel approach to the model with what CEO and cofounder Billy Thalheimer calls a seaglider configuration. It’s basically a wing-in-ground craft, meaning it’s able to manoeuvre thanks to the airflow interaction between the wing and the water. “We’re a purpose-built carbon-fibre boat that happens to fly, and we’re electric,” Thalheimer says. In the case of REGENT’s 14-occupant Viceroy, it’s being developed to skim above the surface on a cushion of air for up to 160 nautical miles—all using current battery technology and at a claimed cost of half the per- passenger expenditure of alternatives.

Interestingly, because of this ground effect, operators of such craft are classified as boat captains rather than pilots according to both the US Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organization. 

The Icon A5 advances amphibious-aircraft design even further

In the FAA’s Light-Sport Aircraft category, Icon’s A5—a two-seater with an automotive-inspired design— introduces high-end features such as folding wings, a carbon-fibre monocoque and safety innovations that include a spin-resistant airframe and a built-in parachute. CEO Jerry Meyer says that Icon will soon expand the market for the nearly US$400,000 ($610,000) A5 to Australia, Japan and Canada. As for the prospect of increased competition in this suddenly crowded-again space, Meyer says, fittingly: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” The historic Grumman Albatross (above) is being reborn with new avionics and engines, while the Icon A5 (right) advances amphibious-aircraft design even further.

Fly Me, Tender

Quick and easy yacht access is always the preference, but what to do if it’s 100 km away from the nearest
port? For more than a decade, Tropic Ocean Airways has operated a cottage industry centred on shuttling yacht owners and their guests via floatplane from bustling South Florida urban centers to remote parts of the Florida Keys and even outlying islands in the Bahamas—and now, increasingly, that route network includes private vessels. 

“Before the pandemic, we also had airplanes in the BVI and Antigua,” says the airline’s founder, Rob Ceravolo. “But when the Bahamas became North America’s favorite charter destination, the boat traffic moved there.” 

Other stateside floatplane firms include Fly The Whale, which services the US Northeast (with a seasonal presence in South Florida), and Kenmore Seaplanes and NW Seaplanes, both focusing on the Pacific Northwest. Besides making transport more time-efficient, the aircraft can also provide a sense of security. “We’ve had airplanes stay with a boat all week,” Ceravolo says. While overall the owners didn’t make much use of the planes (“A few used it for Instagram moments,” he says), the Cessna Caravans still served as back-up transport, a shuttle for crew, cargo and spare parts—and a potential emergency medevac. 

It’s also important to consider the level of expertise inside the cockpit, given the challenging weather conditions inherent to the job. Ceravolo, a former naval aviator and Top Gun instructor, says he trains his pilots to US Navy protocols, teaching them “to fly in all conditions since it can be a very dynamic environment.”

As for clients, they’ve proved creative when it comes to optimising floatplane potential: Ceravolo is working on a plan to drop off a passenger 80 km upwind of the boat—so he can kiteboard back. “In these remote locations,” he says, “there are a lot of options.”

Click here to subscribe to Robb Report ANZ.


Subscribe to the Newsletter

Stay Connected

You may also like.

The Boldest, Most Exciting New Timepieces From Watches & Wonders 2024

Here are the highlights from the world’s biggest watch releases of the year.

By Allen Farmelo, Carol Besler, Paige Reddinger, Oren Hartov, Victoria Gomelsky, Cait Bazemore, Nick Scott, Justin Fenner 10/04/2024

Watches & Wonders, the world’s largest watch show, is in full swing in Geneva. The highly anticipated cascade of new releases is marked by confident individual brand identities — perhaps a sign that watchmakers are done scrambling through the violent collision of restricted supply and soaring demand for high end watches. All seem to be back on solid footing.

Steady confidence is a good thing. Consider Jaeger-LeCoultre offering up traditionally styled grand complications or Vacheron Constantin revamping the classic Patrimony with smaller cases and vintage-inspired radially brushed dials. Consider TAG Heuer celebrating the 55th anniversary of the square Monaco with a skeletonized flyback confidently priced at US$183,000, or Moser similarly showing off a fascinating skeletonized tourbillon in its distinctive 40 mm Streamliner at US$86,900. IWC has leaned hard into their traditionally styled Portugieser line, including an astounding Eternal Calendar complication. We find the storied French houses of Cartier, Chanel and Hermes blurring the lines between jewelry and watchmaking with the technical prowess and artistic whimsy that originally earned these brands their exalted place in the hearts and minds of sophisticated aesthetes. Confidence abounds in 2024.

We could go on and on with examples, but the watches below will demonstrate that for 2024 the big watch brands dared to be themselves, which appears to have given them the confidence to take some seriously compelling horological risks. We have separate coverage of off-show releases and, of course, Patek and Rolex, so keep and eye out for those.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

A Gucci Garden Blooms in Sydney

On a rainy Sydney night, the drinks talent from Maybe Sammy mixed with guest bartenders from Giardino 25 in Florence, for a night of liquid magic.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 13/04/2024

Since hanging out its shingle in 2022, Giardino 25, the all-day café and bar located in Gucci’s palatial, multidisciplinary space in Florence, has been a boon to stylish tipplers. Taking inspiration from one of its previous tenants (a longstanding florist), the garden-themed joint (Giardino is the Italian word for garden) serves delicious aperitivi and dangerously addictive cocktails.


Umbrian native Martina Bonci is in hair-to-brogue Gucci for her artful bartending session at El Primo Sanchez. 
Aurora cocktai at Giardino 25, Florence.

Giardino 25 took bloom this past Tuesday at a pop-up at El Primo Sanchez in Paddington. The Maybe Cocktail Festival in Sydney is a series of 20 events scattered throughout the city curated by the award-winning Sammy’s Cocktails team. The festival aims to spur knowledge-sharing and foster excellence in Australia’s drinks scene.

“Last year we held 16 events and they were all packed,” says Stefano Catino, director of hospitality at Public, the management company behind Maybe Sammy venues and bottled drinks, “so this year we’ve curated extra events and flown out even more international bars and bartenders.”

“Nineteen of the 21 events are free to attend, which is very important to us,” he continues. “The cost of living is high, and it’s very expensive for Australians to travel overseas, so this festival allows people to drink cocktails from an amazing bar in Rome or try a Tommy’s Margarita from the gentleman who created it without the cost of a plane ticket.”

Dressed head to toe in Gucci,  and using the bar as her personal catwalk, Giardino 25’s special guest, Martina Bonci, looked every bit the star behind the bar. “We have brought our mix of classic Italian influences and innovation,” she told Robb Report, “so guests in Australia get a little slice of what we do in Florence.”

Among her tantalising pours were powerful dirty martinis decorated with shimmering gold leaf and Aurora, a transparent twist on the Negroni.

Reflecting on her whirlwind trip down under, Bonci said their visit to Bondi Beach and the cocktails at Maybe Sammy were the highlights.

“The bartenders at Maybe Sammy are world-class,” she explained. “There is a good reason they win awards and have a respected reputation overseas. And El Primo Sanchez has such a fun atmosphere—we had a great night.”

Martina Bonci, Bar Manager at Gucci Giardino 25, has been honored twice as ‘Best Bartender in Italy’ by both the Bargiornale and Blue Blazer Awards. 

Bonci, who came to prominence in a long string at Milanese hipster joint Gesto and is known for her use of agave, favors drinks dripping with seasonal fruits and citrus flavors. Having tried her creations, we do, too.

She made a serious impression on Sydneysiders, who would do well to make a pilgrimage to see her in action on home turf. As if any of us need another reason to visit Italy.

The Maybe Cocktail Festival, continues this weekend in Sydney, with the public welcome to attend a Bartenders Brunch at Sydney’s Alpha on Sunday from 11.00 am – 3.00 pm, hosted by George Calombaris. 

View the program: Maybe Cocktail Festival @maybe_cocktail_fetsival

All images courtesy of Gucci.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Patek Philippe Brings Back Collector Favourites at Watches & Wonders 2024

Both the Nautilus Chronograph and Aquanaut Travel Time receive a welcome return.

By Josh Bozin 10/04/2024

If you’re a watch fan, there’s every reason to believe that a Patek Philippe Nautilus, Patek Philippe Aquanaut—or both—would be high on your wish list. Both collections are of historical significance, helping pave the way for the influence of the steel sports watch category—and subsequent chokehold on the market today.

So, when Patek Philippe unveiled its newest releases at Watches & Wonders in Geneva, it was a pleasant surprise to see the return of two of the best past iterations of the Nautilus and Aquanaut collections.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph

First, we get a new Nautilus Chronograph, with the return of the revered 5980, now replete with a new case in white gold and a denim-like strap (a contentious issue among watch pundits). Discontinuing all Nautilus 5980 models earlier this year, including the collector-favourite 5980/1AR in Rose Gold, left a sombre feeling among Nautilus fanatics. These celebrated chronographs, renowned for their distinctive porthole-inspired design and air of sporty elegance, are some of the most sought-after watches in the Patek Philippe catalogue. Thus, the revival of the 5980, now in white gold, is a cause for collectors’ celebration.

The new offering retains its chronograph function with mono-counter tracking 60-minute and 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock on the dial, but now comes on a new denim-inspired, hand-stitched fabric strap with a Nautilus fold-over clasp in white gold—some will love it, some won’t.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe

The Calibre CH 28‑520 C/522 powers this new Nautilus with its flyback chronograph, all of which is visible through the transparent sapphire crystal caseback. The dial is also incredibly eye-catching, with a beautiful opaline blue-gray hue accentuated by white gold-applied hour markers with a white luminescent coating. It is priced at approximately $112,000.

Also returning to the fold is the Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time, now with its own bluish hue dial—similar to its Nautilus counterpart. After discontinuing the Aquanaut Travel Time 5164A this year, as well—a watch often regarded as the greatest Aquanaut to date—Patek Philippe surprised all with the new 5164G in white gold. Its greatest attribution is the clever Travel Time GMT function, which clearly rivals the Rolex GMT-Master II as perhaps the travel-friendly watch of choice (if acquiring one was that simple, of course).

For those who prefer the Aquanaut’s sportiness and easy-wearing rubber strap, this newest iteration, with its Opaline Blue-gray dial and matching rubber strap with a deployant clasp, is undoubtedly an icon in the making. The new 5164G has a 40mm case and features the Calibre 26‑330 S C FUS movement, which can also be viewed via the transparent sapphire crystal caseback.

Expect to pick up the new Aquanaut Travel Time for around $95,250.  

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time


Follow @robbreportau for all your Watches & Wonders coverage, and more!


Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Rolex Kicks Off Watches & Wonders 2024 with a New GMT-Master II

The new stainless steel GMT-Master II has already been dubbed the “Bruce Wayne”.

By Josh Bozin 09/04/2024

It may not be the GMT that watch pundits were speculating on—or that collectors were hoping for—but the new Rolex GMT-Master II with a new grey and black ceramic bezel adds dazzle to the revered Rolex collection, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary.

The idea of a new Rolex GMT launching at the world’s biggest watch fair is cause for a little madness. While the watch community eagerly awaited what was thought to be the discontinuation of the highly sought-after GMT “Pepsi” and the return of the GMT “Coke,” the luxury Swiss watchmaker had other plans.

Instead, we’re presented with a piece that, on paper, hasn’t changed much from previous GMT releases. That’s not to say that this isn’t an impressive release that will speak to consumers—the new GMT-Master II ref.126710GRNR, dubbed the “Bruce Wayne,” is definitely a sight for sore eyes.


This new GMT retains the same dimensions and movement as the other watches in the GMT collection, along with its 40mm size case and the option to fit either an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. The obvious changes, albeit subtle, come in the way of its mostly monochrome return; a fact that will appease traditionalists. If you’re opposed to the attention-drawing “Pepsi”, “Sprite”, or “Batman” iterations, this model is a stealthier pick—much like pseudonymous Bruce Wayne.

The other noticeable change is the “GMT-Master II” now applied in green text and a 24-hour hand in green; perhaps a nod to the 2007 Basel World GMT release.

Like many Rolex timepieces, this will generate great hype and attention, so don’t expect allocations to come easily.


Model: GMT-Master II
Reference Number: 126710GRNR

Diameter: 40mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Dial Colour: Black
Lume: Chromalight on hands and hour markers
Water Resistance: 100m
Bracelet: Oyster or Jubilee

Movement: Caliber 3285
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, GMT
Power Reserve: 70 hours
Winding: Automatic

Price: $17,150 (Oyster); $17,500 (Jubilee)
Availability: Now. Non-limited edition

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Moments in Time

Silversea’s Kimberley adventures transport passengers into a different dimension.

By Vince Jackson 09/04/2024

Whoever refuted the theory of time-travel has clearly never set foot in the Kimberley, a geological relic where craggy landscapes forged hundreds of millions of years ago remain untouched, and dinosaur footprints are still etched into the ochre terrain. And while traversing one of the planet’s last great wildernesses in a 4X4 holds rugged appeal, a more refined way to explore the Western Australian outback is by cruise liner. 

Enter the Silver Cloud, one of Silversea’s most luxurious vessels, available for 10- or 17-day expeditions. Upon arrival via private executive transfer, expect a level of intimacy that’s often conspicuous on other cruise experiences. With a maximum of just 200 guests, attended to by 212 staff, the Silver Cloud can lay claim to the greatest passenger-to-crew ratios operating in the Kimberley. Twenty-four-hour butler service is standard for every suite, along with ocean views—no matter if you plump for a modest 22 m² Vista Suite or supersize to a 217 m² Grand Suite.

Yet bigger is not necessarily better on water; the ship itself is compact enough to manoeuvre into isolated coves and waterways that larger vessels—or, indeed, four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers—are unable access. Each sunrise brings the promise of an unforgettable adventure, whether hopping on a Zodiac at Koolama Bay to witness the cascading thunder of the 80-m-high, twin King George Falls, or embarking at Swift Bay to scramble over rocky standstone and view the disparate rock-art forms on display at the sacred Wandjina art galleries—some reckoned to be up to 12,000 years old.

Another example of the Kimberley’s ability to propel you back through time.

Prices from $15,500 pp (10 days) and $23,900 pp (17 days); June 9-19, and August 8-25 or August 25- September 11 respectively;

Click here to subscribe to Robb Report ANZ.

Click here to subscribe to Robb Report ANZ.


Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected