From Topgun to Seaplanes
Navy fighter pilot builds Tropic Ocean Airways into a seven-aircraft fleet
By Kevin Gale | Photos by Amanda K. Photography www.photosbyamandak.com
It’s no coincidence that Tropic Ocean Airways seems as though it’s organized like a fighter squadron.
CEO Rob Ceravolo is a 10-year active duty Navy veteran who flew F-14 Tomcats and F-18E Super Hornets, attended Topgun Fighter Weapons School and served as an air combat instructor.
When he transitioned to the Navy Reserve in 2011, Ceravolo set out to fulfill his dream of building a seaplane airline. What started off as just one airplane and one employee has evolved to seven aircraft, 20 pilots and 40 employees. He’s planning to add four more planes this year.
The late-model Cessna fleet includes both non-seaplanes and seaplanes, which also have wheels and hold five to nine passengers plus two pilot seats.
Like the Navy, Ceravolo has strict safety requirements, including two-pilot crews who are trained in risk management. However, he says his company is strongly based on customer service and includes having friendly pilots and valet service for cars.
Tropic Ocean Airways is based at the Sheltair Aviation facility at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, but can also fly out of the Miami Seaplane Base on Watson Island, across from PortMiami. The base was once home to Chalk’s International Airlines, which ceased operations in 2007.
The airline has scheduled service to Bimini and Great Harbour Cay in the Bahamas. It also has scheduled service to Havana through a partnership with a Cuban travel agency. Ceravolo plans to launch scheduled service to Marathon in the Florida Keys and Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay in the Bahamas. As an example of fares, a round-trip flight to Great Harbour is $600.
Tropic Ocean can be chartered to take passengers just about anywhere they want to go in the Caribbean, since seaplanes just need water to land. If you don’t want to pitch a tent on an idyllic uninhabited island, the airline also offers packages with resorts.
During the summer, Tropic Ocean sends some of its fleet to New York City, flying out of the East 23rd Street dock and going to destinations such as East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Fire Island and Nantucket. Ceravolo plans to increase the number of planes in New York from two to four in the summer of 2016. The service is offered with the BLADE crowdsourcing app for helicopter and seaplane service.
In the fall, Tropic Ocean started round-trip flights to Gainesville for Florida Gator fans during home football games. The 80-minute flights are designed to arrive two hours before kickoff to allow time for tailgating and return an hour after the game ends.
Tropic Ocean, which had a booth at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, also serves a yachting clientele. Ceravolo says it can fly passengers or bring provisions – whether it’s an emergency delivery of spare parts or a delivery of caviar.
But not everything is caviar and Champagne dreams at Tropic Ocean. In April, the airline donated flights for “A Special Day for Special Kids” at Boca Raton Executive Airport. The children flown had medical conditions or special needs.
On Oct. 5, Tropic Ocean announced that it was mobilizing its fleet to help with recovery efforts from Hurricane Joaquin in the Bahamas. Some of its ex-military pilots have relief experience from the tsunami and earthquake in Japan. Two days later, the airline had delivered 30,000 pounds of supplies to a command hub in Georgetown and then flew them to multiple affected areas.