Sea to Air
Aqua Aero brings seaplane aviation and the exhilaration of flight to southeastern North Carolina like never before.
After a lengthy career as an airplane pilot, certified flight instructor and FFA-designated pilot examiner, David Lackey has found a way to combine his passions of aviation and outdoor adventure.
First, he earned his seaplane pilot certificate and purchased a Maule M-7-260 Amphibious aircraft, which can take off and land on ground and water. Next, he purchased a riverfront home in Rocky Point on the Northeast Cape Fear River as the headquarters for his seaplane training. In 2020 he founded Aqua Aero, a seaplane training and air tour business.
Before starting the seaplane training school, Lackey, CFI/CFII/MEI/DPE, spent 41 years flying and 25 years as an examiner. In the flying school, students who are already pilots receive five to six hours of flight training throughout the weekend in order to earn their rating. That’s in addition to an equal amount of ground instruction. All of his seaplane flight school classes are taught by dedicated and experienced flight instructors using proven strategies while making sure each student succeeds and has fun.
Since Lackey is both a trainer and an examiner, everything can be completed in-house.
The Rocky Point location proves an ideal spot for pilots to achieve their rating quickly, safely and efficiently. With docks less than eight nautical miles from Wilmington International Airport, the property features a windy riverbed that flows in several wide and long, unobstructed directions; this means that shifting winds will very rarely delay training. That easy accessibility, combined with the area’s tropical climate zone, allows for the ability to train all year long.
Students travel from all over the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands, many with their families, to earn their seaplane license.
Lackey encourages them to use the location to its fullest potential, not only to train but also to relax. The onsite home serves as a bed and breakfast with two rooms available for transient students with all-inclusive amenities.
Aqua Aero also offers air tours, and they are the first to provide this opportunity in southeastern North Carolina. These flights provide an incredible opportunity to experience the area’s biologically diverse ecosystem from the air. From coastal to brackish water to the Northeast Cape Fear River, guests can see the marks of history on the land.
“Aqua Aero Adventures offers a unique and up-close opportunity to experience the hallmarks of our coastal community from a new and exciting perspective, in a way only possible through the eyes of a seaplane,” says Blaine Tonking, Seaplane Air Tours and Instruction and Marine Special Operations (MARSOC), Retired. “To witness our area’s natural beauty and diversity from a seaplane flying just above the water is something truly exceptional.”
Air tours start and end at the Rocky Point headquarters.
The average tours lasts for 30 minutes and can take up to two adults or one adult and two children with an air speed of 100 to 110 knots. The route follows the Northeast Cape Fear River to the Downtown Wilmington Riverfront and around the Battleship North Carolina. Another option for passengers is the ability to create their own custom adventure for a longer tour. Choices include touring anywhere along the coast including Southport, Kure Beach and the Brunswick River.
By spring 2023 Aqua Aero plans to create a downtown location to pick up passengers. This would include a new route taking passengers to the South Cape Fear River, Snows Cut, Carolina Beach and the Carolina Beach Inlet. Future plans also include expanding the fleet of amphibious aircraft to keep up with demand and incorporate aircraft maintenance.
One thing is certain, whether visiting Aqua Aero for training or a tour, you will leave as a friend. Lackey believes Aqua Aero is not just a business, it is also a family environment where you will come as a stranger, leave as a friend and know you are always welcome back!