Before WWII, flying boats were a popular form of transport, and the advantages are many: No need to build runways, capability of emergency landing on water, availability of large landing sites and no tire wear and tear. Why have they been abandoned?

  • $\begingroup$ Even flying boat can't land on water with any significant waves. So there is not much use for emergency landing. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 6:56

4 Answers 4


The biggest single reason for the decline of flying boats was the proliferation of long runways during World War II. The infrastructure advantage of flying boats – the ability to operate heavy aircraft without long runways – was no longer relevant. Large airfields were a result of the long-range heavy bomber campaigns in Europe and Asia.

Century of Flight has an interesting article that goes a bit more in depth.

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    $\begingroup$ Alhtough the initial prerequisite for the substitution was the development of aircraft which had sufficient range and reliability to get rid of seaborne fueling stops. $\endgroup$
    – yankeekilo
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ That's true, but I'd argue that the earlier long-range aircraft had pretty abysmal takeoff performance. They needed the space available on the water to reach the ranges they offered. During WWII, much more powerful engines were developed that allowed the DC-6 and Constellation to have both great range and shorter takeoff requirements, plus the runways were now much longer. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 21:43

Apart logistics and the availability of long runways afterr WWII, the reason for the phasing out of the sea planes was maintenance. The aircraft was operating in an extremely corrosive environment, something that can be seen nowadays in the firefighting planes like the Canadair and other smaller seaplanes. More info: FAA Corrosion Control.

Also the engines need to be inspected and cleaned after every operation. Generally speaking, operation in corrosive environments like water is something that requires very careful inspection and time consuming maintenance. For example even the Chinook helicopter needs extensive cleaning after operations that involve landing on water.

Finally the increased drag due to the shape of the flying boat is something that every designer and airliner wants to avoid.

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    $\begingroup$ also, the mass of a flying boat fuselage is considerably higher than that of a landplane, eating into payload. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 18:40

Flying boats were a solution for long over water flights when engines were less reliable and could not produce sufficient power to lift large loads.

Regular flying boat services between New Zealand and Australia which I am most familiar with, often never flew above 5,000ft. This meant they subjected passengers to considerable discomfort at the mercy of bad weather.

In areas where there were primitive support facilities and no runways, especially in the Pacific, these flying boats continued to operate into the early 'sixties, but as more and more runways were built the need for flying boats diminished and the cost increased.

Tahiti and New Zealand operated the last scheduled routes for large flying boats in the Pacific.

Shin Meiwa in Japan did propose a civil version of their impressive STOL US-1 which would have carried >50 passengers in a pressurised cabin. India is interested in such aircraft for search and rescue but no orders have arisen for the civilian aircraft.

Shin Meiwa flying boat

Beriev in Russia has also developed an equally impressive Be-200 jet powered flying boat (smaller sibling of the A-40 Albatross). The Be-200 is offered as an amphibious airliner configuration, but so far airlines have not shown any interest.


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    $\begingroup$ Great post, lists the major reasons and has pretty pictures of the best flying boats with their state-of-the-art hulls. I would add only one thing: The weight penalty of a flying boat hull is considerable, and it reduces the possible payload. So it is simply less profitable to run an airline service using flying boats. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 8:12
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks Peter, Germany had some amazing flying boats worthy of note like the BV222 Wiking and of course operated services to Rio de Janiro before the War. One cannot beat flying boats for romance and excitement. $\endgroup$
    – user2357
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 2:00

The second biggest reason: Where would they land in Denver? And many more cities that have robust air traffic but not many lakes or waterways that are suitable.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, most flying boats actually have wheels and can land on a normal runway. :) $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger technically those are amphibians. And at the time (early 1930s) most were straight flying boats. Even the PBY Catalina wasn't an amphib until the final few models late in its career. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 6:31

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