There’s a seaplane base being planned in St. Cloud, Florida, that’s been a long time coming.
The town’s main body of water, East Lake Tohopekaliga—or “East Lake” for short—is an attractive spot for seaplane operations. And it has been eyed as such for many years.
The U.S. Navy contemplated constructing a flying boat facility on its shore way back at about the start of World War II, but the vision never became a reality. It would be decades before the potential aviation use of East Lake was considered again.
Another evaluation of the site launched in the 2010s. Initial conversations started up between a St. Cloud city councilman and Terry Lloyd, who at that time was the director of Kissimmee Gateway Airport (KISM).
An Important Conversation
“I was shopping in St. Cloud and one of the city councilmen asked me to look into the possibility of a seaplane base,” Lloyd said. “The Kissimmee tower chief controller, Glenn Huckeba, is also a St. Cloud resident, and I reached out to him.
“He looked at the airspace and talked to the Orlando air traffic managers, and we reported back that we saw no ‘showstoppers’ to developing a base.”
With momentum also growing for the town’s development efforts on East Lake, including its shoreline, the time seemed right to start planning. So, the city of St. Cloud is doing just that.
Filling the Void
There are a number of potential improvements and additions under consideration for the 100-plus-acre Lakefront Park footprint. The question of whether a seaplane base would be feasible has morphed into a formal development process that coincides with the existing Lakefront Park work.
And while some well-known seaplane bases and facilities are located in Central Florida, Lloyd noted that there aren’t many near St. Cloud.
“There are some private seaplane lanes on the charts, but most are inactive,” Lloyd said. “The closest is Jack Brown’s in Winter Haven, approximately 40 miles to the west, and Tavares, about the same distance to the northwest.”
Lloyd says it makes sense to fill that hole.
“We are already in an ‘airport rich’ environment, but not when it comes to seaplanes,” he said. “St. Cloud is very much in the greater Orlando area, but there are no seaplane facilities close to the inner core. We might find ourselves very pleasantly surprised at the response when we start development.”
To help ensure the envisioned addition becomes a reality, the town of St. Cloud invited Lloyd to serve as the seaplane base’s aviation coordinator. In short, he’ll act as the liaison for coordinating construction. Once the facility is complete, he’ll oversee operations.
Before building these facilities, the lake’s use for aircraft landing first must be cleared. Fortunately, there is already an existing seaplane lane at East Lake. This 3,000-foot-by-200-foot water “runway” was activated in June 2020 and is on the charts as 3FL.
But, there’s a problem.
“There is nowhere to go once you land there,” Lloyd said. Because of this, he’s not aware of anyone who has used the lane yet.
In the vicinity of this existing landing area is where an offshore seaplane base likely will be constructed. While most details are in the air, pending the previously mentioned master planning discussions’ results, the project is getting off the ground.
Lloyd expects to install a floating dock with a portion being anchored to the land (and used as a walkway). This structure will host an undetermined number of slips and will primarily serve transient aircraft and local residents. The slips will fit standard-sized amphibious aircraft, with the potential for end slips handling larger aircraft.
The base will include fueling capability. The pumps will have both 100LL for aircraft (airboats also use this fuel), as well as standard automotive gas for boats and jet skis—and some aircraft as well.
The parts of the project still up in the air relate to the potential addition of direct onshore seaplane facilities. The city recently acquired a boat ramp that could be used for that purpose. By adding an onshore component, the development could see further use as a destination seaplane facility. With this addition, there would be the opportunity to also include an FBO, flight school, maintenance facility, and additional aircraft storage space available for short- and long-term lease.
Tentatively, construction of the offshore seaplane base development action items (such as the pier, docking, and fuel facilities) may begin in eight to 12 months. And the direct onshore components, if included in the master plan, would be three to five years down the road. Going forward, though, there are still many other considerations to be mindful of to successfully create the planned seaplane base.
But since the development is a public offering managed by a town—rather than a private partner—some of the associated complexity may be eased.
“As a city, we are already in the business of providing transportation infrastructure, such as roads, etc.,” Lloyd says. “Cities also have a lower burden of liability as operators. And financially, we are able to apply for government grants as any publicly owned airport is able to do.”
The project has assistance from government agencies.
“We already have the seaplane lane and airspace established with the FAA and the Florida Department of Transportation,” Lloyd said. “And [the Florida Department of Transportation] has already issued us….an airport license. Both the FAA and FDOT were very supportive in establishing the seaplane lane and airspace. We anticipate similar cooperation, mainly from FDOT, going forward.”