I had a pleasant surprise the other day. I got an invitation from Seawings, the new floatplane operator in Dubai, to come along on one of their scenic flights. They use an amphibious Cessna Caravan, a 9-passenger single-engine turboprop. The flights depart from the marina of the Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa, about a 45 minute drive from Emirates Towers, barring traffic. I took the longer of the two tours they have, Seawings Silver, a the 40 minute flight which hits all the highlights of Dubai, many of which are best seen from the air.
Check-in is painless with the only requirement being your original passport. I was a bit early, so I walked over to the dock where the ground crew were refueling the aircraft. I chatted with the captain, Scott, for a while. He's been flying for Seawings for the past three months after a two-year gig flying seaplanes out of Phuket, Thailand. Scott offered me the right seat and I hopped on it the front door while the other eight passengers climbed in through the large door in the rear.
After a short safety briefing, the doors were shut and the captain started the 675 hp Pratt & Whitney turboprop and the ground crew cast off the mooring line. We taxied out of the marina towards the main entrance to the Port of Jebel Ali before taking off to the west directly over the new Palm Jebel Ali accelerating ever so slowly through the water until we lifted off into ground effect. Free of the drag of the water, we rapidly gained airspeed and altitude and soon Scott made a wide right turn to overfly the port and adjacent industrial area heading for Dubai Marina.
We passed the Marina to the left, just above the level of the tallest towers, while off to the right the vast residential developments of Emirates Hills stretched off into desert. We then turned left over the top of Dubai Internet City where the bird's eye view gives you a chance to peek over the big walls and have a look at some of the palaces that line the Jumeirah coast between the Marina and the Burj al Arab. Our flight path clipped the edge of the Palm Jumeirah with the newly opened Atlantis Hotel far in the distance. It would have been nice fly closer to have a look at the new water park there, but instead we left the Palm behind and headed out to The World, the offshore archipelago that with a great deal of imagination appears as a map of the world. We got a close up look at the only only island which has been built upon, but several other islands, including one destined to become a Maldivian-style resort, seem to be in the final stages of sculpting before construction begins.
The captain then set course towards the Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world. I was too busy snapping photos to notice if we were at 1500 feet or 2000 feet, but either way we were well below the top of the tower. It's still growing and according to our aeronautical charts, it will end up 2800 feet tall, more than twice as high as the Empire State Building. Crossing the beach, we got a nice view of Jumeirah before Scott turned and flew along the rows of skyscrapers lining Sheikh Zayed Road. We circled back over the Defense Roundabout where he gave me an up close and personal look at my building, U.P. Tower, and the adjacent Emirates Towers. We then flew up as far as Safa Park before circling back around Burj Dubai for a great view with the skyline of Sheikh Zayed Road in the background.
Approaching the end of the Creek, we descended to 1000 feet and followed it all the way to Port Rashid getting great views of Dubai Festival City, the Dubai Creek Club and all the bridges. The dhow port in Deira is especially colorful. I was hoping to get the reflection of the airplane in the gold mirrored windows of the National Bank of Dubai but didn't manage. Out past the dry docks, just off Jumeirah Beach, we crossed back over land and followed Jumeirah Beach Road.
A highlight of the trip was circling right over the top of the Burj al Arab, Madinat Jumeriah and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel at 2,000 feet. On all the other flights I've done over Dubai, we hadn't been able to do that because of restricted airspace around the famous landmark hotel. Nearby, I noticed another island of a similar size had been built, but I don't yet know what they're planning on building on it, but I can pretty much assume it will be spectacular.
The 360 complete, we cruised on down the beach back over Dubai Marina. This time, it was on the right side of the aircraft, so those who didn't get a very good view of that or Palm Jumeirah on the outbound leg had another opportunity here. The captain then began his descent and we flew at low level right over the top of the Port of Jebel Ali with its miles of wharf and thousands of containers. An electronic voice then announced "gear up for water landing" and just past the port, Scott made a gentle descending left turn. It was a weekday, so there weren't many pleasure boats to watch out for and we had open water for the smooth landing 40 minutes after departing.
A scenic flight over Dubai is highly recommended. So many of Dubai's landmarks, such as the Palms and the World, can really only be appreciated from the air, while the many tall buildings and the Creek are also great when seen from above. Flying from Jebel Ali is easy, avoiding the hassle of overflying the extended centerline of Dubai International Airport that flights from Umm al Quwain have to manage. While not cheap at AED1125 ($306) a seat for the flight, Seawings offering is still much more affordable than using one of Aerogulf's helicopters. Additionally, there is a slightly cheaper option, a 30 minute flight for AED895 ($243). Visit their website at www.seawings.ae.