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Indiana Regulations Restrict Seaplane Access – Groundbreaking Opportunity to Change

June 4, 2010

Two elements of the Indiana Administrative Code (regulations) make nearly all Indiana lakes off-limits to seaplanes.  Both rules are controlled by the Indiana DOT.  The first rule prohibits seaplanes on all lakes that do not have an established seaplane base.  The second rule requires public-use seaplane bases to be located only on large lakes with a minimum of one mile of open water for takeoffs and landings.

Randy Strebig, president of ISPA, makes the case for seaplanes on Indiana lakes.

Historically, only four Indiana lakes have had public seaplane bases, all located in the southern less populated half of the state.  Randy Strebig, SPA Field Director and president of the Indiana regional seaplane association, worked with state officials to establish 17 more private-use seaplane bases on lakes in the northern half of the state.  Randy was named “base manager” of these private SPB facilities and was given authority to grant seaplane access upon pilot request.

This strange arrangement effectively required seaplane pilots to obtain permission from a private individual to use a public waters.  Although this arrangement effectively increased the number of available water landing areas for seaplanes, both Randy and state officials agree this model is not a good long-term solution.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources proposed making some or all of the private-use lakes open for public access.  As reported in Water Flying, during the past year public meetings were held to discuss the merits of the proposal.  Dozens of supporters attended and all (both pilots and non-pilots) supported increased seaplane access to Indiana lakes.  Most attendees strongly supported eliminating the seaplane base requirement, which would open nearly all Indiana lakes to public seaplane access.

Steve Whitney, representing SPA at the DNR public hearing, documented the superior safety record of seaplanes, compared to boats.

State officials are willing to convert all private-use lakes to public-use (and eliminate the “private-use” designation), provided they meet the current one-mile of open water requirement.  This restriction would eliminate 7 of the currently 17 private lakes for public access.  State officials have no choice but to abide by the Administrative Code restrictions.  Thanks to Mr. Strebig’s persistent efforts, key Indiana DOT and DNR officials now support solutions that would open more lakes to seaplanes, however the Indiana Admin Code remains an obstacle.

How to proceed? Enacting legislation to open all Indiana lakes to seaplanes appears to be the most straightforward solution.  Alternatively, the state Administrative Code must be modified to remove the arbitrary one-mile minimum takeoff/landing area requirement of the Administrative Code and/or eliminate the seaplane base requirement for public-use seaplane lakes.  The Indiana DOT and DNR have stated their budgets will not support the long process of changing the code.

The current plan discussed by SPA, Randy Strebig, and and ardent seaplane supporter Steve Whitney, is to request Indiana officials establish a timeline for the proposed changes (possibly January 1, 2011) to open the 10 lakes (which currently meet the state Code standards) to public-use.  The request will also ask for a two-year moratorium before the seven private seaplane lakes would change status, allowing them to continue operating as private-use seaplane lakes.  This grace period will provide time to explore regulatory changes or legislation solutions.

We will keep you advised as this process is implemented.  Please let us know if you have recommendations or other solutions for this very unique Indiana seaplane problem.

Photos courtesy of http://www.seaplanepilots.org.

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