Written By: Lesley Kamm, Owner of SeaWind Aviation, SeaWind Aviation
Unless you’re an eagle, the only way you can visit the most dramatic places in Alaska is to fly with local pilots who know the area, from seashore to mountain peaks.
When we started our family business in Ketchikan, we named it SeaWind Aviation to signify that we’re at home in Southeast Alaska’s unique flying environment—where floatplanes take to the skies along the region’s thousands of miles of ocean shores, carrying residents from town to town and visitors to exciting flightseeing opportunities. In naming our homegrown aviation business, we also promised the finest passenger experiences at our waterfront facilities and in the air.
For those of us who live in the Alaska Panhandle’s chain of islands and roadless towns, flying is a necessity. But for the nearly one million visitors who come through the region each year, aviation is a thrilling amenity. For many, it’s literally a once in a lifetime adventure. That could be a flightseeing tour of magnificent Misty Fjords wilderness or a bear-viewing trip with a land-and-look component, or a chartered round trip to a remote cabin for days of lakeside solitude.
Flightseeing in the Alaskan mix
Flightseeing is a leading component of the Alaskan excursion mix, whether booked through professionals or independently. A visitor study a few years ago found that about 20 percent of cruise passengers in Alaska took flightseeing trips, far more than went out charter fishing or took in shore side shows. That same visitor study by Juneau’s McDowell Group showed that participation in flightseeing increased in popularity, in the prior five years, among all visitors, whether they came to Alaska by airline, ferry, and highway or cruise ship.
Our family-based operation at SeaWind Aviation is well-situated for this growing travel-market segment. We’ve increased our fleet to a pair of DeHavilland Beaver aircraft and a Cessna aircraft, all on floats. Our new dock and shore side office are in the center of Ketchikan’s busy working waterfront. But beyond the top-flight “hardware,” we boast an aviation heritage that goes back decades and two generations.
An aviation heritage
Owner and chief pilot Steve Kamm was practically born in a cockpit in Ketchikan as the son of Cliff Kamm—who flew fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in this area and across Alaska for about 40 years. Steve has flown Alaskan skies for nearly 30 years, logging more than 17,000 hours of commercial flight time. Co-owner Lesley Kamm runs ground operations and marketing for SeaWind Aviation. Our three daughters are growing up in a town where their great-great-grandfather, E.C. Phillips, landed as an English immigrant nearly a century ago and later founded a seafood processing business that still serves local fishermen behind the same proud name. Interweaving family heritage with honest, reliable business principles is very important to us.
Although just about everyone who visits Southeast Alaska wants the thrill of seeing it from the air, not everyone wants to see it in the same way. We’ve extended our menu of flights on the geographical and timeline ranges—even including a literal menu of crab and salad on two excursions.
Misty Fjords is a star attraction
SeaWind Aviation specializes in flights to Misty Fjords National Monument, the most popular summertime excursion. The near edge of this gorgeous region is only about 30 miles from Ketchikan. The federally managed wilderness area takes in about 2 million acres of deep ocean fjords, steep granite walls rising as much as 3,000 feet from the sea, and lush temperate rain forest—all of it occasionally laced by mists rising from the sea. Waterfalls pour off of clefts in ancient rock. High-mountain snowfields and deep, black lakes contrast with the granite and green world. Some people call Misty Fjords “the Yosemite of the North.”
A state-sponsored visitor study a few years ago found that more than 90 percent of Ketchikan-based flightseeing trips go to Misty Fjords. Some of our passengers enjoy a mid-trip lake landing and experience the majestic quiet of Misty Fjords when the pilot cuts the engine for a few minutes, to allow everyone to get out on land to take in the scenery and breathe in the fresh air.
Bear viewing is popular
SeaWind Aviation also flies cruise ship passengers and independent travelers on bear-viewing excursions. When salmon come back to spawning streams, bears also converge for summer feasts. Passengers see dramatic mountainscapes and ocean channels as they fly to and from bear viewing sites. We fly to one bear viewing site north of Ketchikan and another on Prince of Wales Island west of Ketchikan.
A briefer aerial tour lifts passengers over the city and the so-called Ketchikan Alps behind the city and adds a uniquely Alaskan touch—or touchdown. The flight ends at a remote lodge for a delicious feast of Dungeness crab from local waters.
The crab feast at George Inlet Lodge can be added to our Misty Fjords flightseeing and harbor excursions.
SeaWind Aviation provides flights to remote cabins and lodges as part of our year-round service. We also work with local guides for world-class fly-in fishing excursions.
Wildlife sightings from peak to sea
It’s not uncommon for passengers on any of our flights to see wildlife, such as mountain goats clambering over high alpine slopes or bears foraging along shorelines. Humpback whales and killer whales that visit Southeast Alaska are also sighted by lucky flightseeing passengers.
This seems like a good time to talk about passengers’ experiences in our aircraft and ashore. All of our seats are window seats—that’s why we can call it flightseeing. Steve Kamm and our experienced pilots provide live narration as we fly; no canned spiels for us. Every passenger wears noise-reducing, voice-activated headphones with a microphone that allows conversation with the pilot and fellow passengers. We love flying in Alaska and we’re happy to answer passengers’ excited questions about this one-of-a-kind place. We and other Alaskans have an essential reputation to uphold. McDowell Group’s most recent survey of Alaska visitors found that 71 percent of them were “very satisfied” and 27 percent were “satisfied” with their overall experiences in the Great Land. (We’re sure that remaining 2 percent didn’t fly with us!)
We provide complimentary pick-up service at the docks downtown for our passengers and quoted tour time starts when passengers are in the planes. Some excursions sold at “3 hours” involve a great deal of time in vans and on docks.
Once they’re aloft, our passengers are in the care of three pilots with substantial local flying experience. Some flightseeing operations in Southeast Alaska employ part-time pilots from outside the state to keep their planes in the air during the busy summer season.