Puyallup Tribe and Kenmore Air Open Seaplane Base in Tacoma

Partnership plan announced last year becomes a reality

City and county officials, tribal members, and Kenmore representatives prepare to cut the ribbon [Meg Godlewski]

In May 2022 the Puyallup Tribe of Washington State and Pacific Northwest seaplane giant Kenmore Air announced a partnership to bring floatplane operations to the Tacoma waterfront along land once inhabited by the Puyallup Tribe. 

On August 10, 2023, a ceremony was held to announce the mission has been accomplished. The new dock and seaplane terminal are open, and flights for the public begin this weekend.


Tribal council members and dignitaries arrived at the welcoming ceremony aboard a Kenmore Air 1955 de Havilland DHC-3 Turbine Otter. The airplane is the backbone of the Kenmore fleet. This particular aircraft, N90422, is decorated with a Native American salmon design that honors the Puyallup Tribe.

Puyallup Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud noted how moving it is to see the tribal lands from the air. For millennia the Puyallup Tribe lived along the shore of what is now the South Puget Sound, living off shellfish, native plants, and the all-important salmon. Today, the Puyallup Tribe is a sovereign nation of more than 5,000 members, and is one of the largest employers in Pierce County. The Tribe's businesses include the Emerald Queen Hotel and Casino in Fife, billed as the entertainment capital of the northwest. The tribe name is pronounced “pew-AWL-up,” and means “generous people'' or "welcoming people.”

The opening ceremony was held next to the dock and began with a traditional Native American prayer, followed by a traditional song and dance.

The dock and restaurant are located on Ruston Way along the Tacoma waterfront bordering Commencement Bay. Ruston Way is a wide, walkable path that hugs the shoreline for approximately 2.5 miles. In addition to spectacular views of the Sound and sometimes the sealife (today a pair of seals made an appearance), the path is interspersed with historical markers, sculptures, mosaics, and poems carved into the pavement.

Giving Thanks to All

Sterud noted that the seaplane dock and restaurant terminal would not have happened without a great deal of work and cooperation between the Puyallup Tribe, and local, state, and national representatives, the FAA, and Kenmore Air.

After the ceremony, the media were offered scenic flights, flown by Kenmore Air chief pilot Jay Todhunter. I scrambled into the right seat of the cockpit (my natural habitat) and donned the headsets the passengers wear on the flight to listen to a recorded tour of the area. The audio points out landmarks and gives a brief history of them, for example during the flight over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the narrator talks about “Galloping Gertie,” the name given to the bridge when it was torn apart in a windstorm on November 7, 1940.

Kenmore Air is synonymous with floatplanes and the Puget Sound and has been so for more than 75 years. Traditionally, Kenmore Air's scenic flight season runs from April until the middle of October. This year, flights from the south sound seaplane base will begin August 11 until October 15. Each flight will last about 20 minutes and show off some famous landmarks and aerial views that have made the area famous, such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Point Defiance Park, Vashon Island, Commencement Bay, and Mount Rainier.

According to Kenmore Air officials, the aircraft will be making several scenic flights a day from the dock along the Ruston Way waterfront. The terminal was built in a building that until the pandemic, contained a restaurant. There is a comfortable waiting area, and the building will also house a restaurant operated by world-renowned Chef Roy Yamaguchi.

In addition to scenic flights from its Seattle base, Kenmore also offers trips to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, B.C. Company officials note it's possible that in the future, the South Sound base might provide access to those destinations as well.

For more information or to purchase tickets: kenmoreair.com

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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