(Above) A Cessna 208 Caravan EX on floats, like the type of seaplane an aviation startup wanted to operate out of Navy Pier.
29-Sep-18 Milwaukee would have been 30 minutes away Grand Rapids, 40 minutes, and Springfield, 70 minutes by seaplane if a proposal had not been squashed during a period of turmoil within the Chicago Police Departments Marine and Helicopter Unit.
Seaplanes took off and landed near Navy Pier from 1938 into the 1950s, mainly taking seaplane pilots to and from their summer homes. At one time, there were two facilities at Navy Pier where amphibious aircraft could land.
(Left) 1942 photo of the Seaplane Base mascot. Navy Pier is visible in distance at upper left. (Click on image to view larger version.)
In 2015, a Chicago investment company sought regulatory approval for an amphibious aircraft facility at Navy Pier.
Azure Aviation Group, LLC, wanted to offer seaplane service from a dock on the quieter, under-utilized north side of Navy Pier. Five to ten times a day, from May to November, a single-engine Cessna 208 Caravan EX with two pontoons, two pilots, and up to eight TSA-screened passengers, each paying $75 to $235, would fly to destinations up to 90 minutes away including OHare International Airport. Check-in would take about five minutes.
The service, FlyBlue Airlines, would also offer sightseeing flights from Navy Pier. Similar services were operating in New York, Seattle, and Miami.
In Chicago, demonstration flights with one aircraft were planned for September 12, 2016, and Azure expected to launch FlyBlue Airlines in May 2017.
James Price Chuck, a principal of Azure Aviation Group, says the project had the support of the Federal Aviation Administration, United States Coast Guard, Illinois Department of Aviation, Chicago Department of Aviation, Chicago Fire Department, and for a time, Chicago Police Department.
His team included a former United States Navy Top Gun instructor and other veterans from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Chuck (right) met with seven aldermen, most of whom expressed interest and offered to host the project in their wards, but Navy Pier with its protective breakwaters and proximity to downtown was the only viable option.
Encouragement came from Choose Chicago, the organization that markets Chicago as a destination, hotels, travel agencies, the CEO of Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which operates Navy Pier, and a former Deputy Mayor. The advertising agency Leo Burnett Worldwide, investment banking company Goldman Sachs, and other companies contacted Azure about getting employees to clients by seaplane.
But the proposal was shot down, Chuck suspects, by Steve Georgas, then Deputy Chief of CPDs Special Functions Division and now a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit alleging sex discrimination against the only woman who has commanded the divisions Marine and Helicopter Unit.
Project loses police support when supporter loses command
Allison Schloss was appointed in May 2014 by then-Superintendent Garry McCarthy to lead the unit, located on the breakwater across from Navy Pier, that patrols all bodies of water in Chicago and oversees the departments helicopter operations. She had been a police officer for 28 years and a lieutenant for 14 years.
She reported to Georgas, who had been head of the Marine and Helicopter Unit until 2006, when he was promoted to 18th District Commander.
(Left) Allison Schloss at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York on September 19, 2012.
Chucks says Schloss and others were very supportive of the seaplane plans. He says the people and agencies he spoke to about the venture, while not actively promoting the project, were excited about what they viewed as an innovative addition to Chicagos transportation and tourism infrastructure.
But Schlosss help with getting the support of the Chicago Police Department ended in June 2016 when she was removed from command of the unit by Georgas, resulting in a sex discrimination lawsuit now in United States District Court.
According to an amended complaint filed on May 30, 2018, Schloss says she was targeted for harassment and discrimination by Georgas.
She claims Georgas (right) scapegoated her, harassed her, humiliated her, and intentionally undermined her command.
He would blame her, she says, for real or perceived problems that were not within the scope of her responsibilities.
She would be ordered to write reports explaining alleged faults or problems, even if she was not responsible for the incident. Georgas would later claim he did not receive the report and order her to write it again. Sometimes, she would be told to write a report on why a report was missing.
For example, on May 4, 2016, the unit received notification that the city was behind on payments to the company that repairs and maintains CPD helicopters. Though neither Schloss or Georgas had any control over payments, Georgas, according to Schloss, demanded she write a plan on how to rectify the issue.
The order was patronizing, insolent, and a useless expenditure of [Schlosss] time. Georgas did not require male commanding officers of his units to expend command time writing memos with plans to rectify problems they could not repair.
Schloss says Georgas resented her being in command of the unit. He did not place her there, and he did not want a woman in the post.
Schloss is suing the City of Chicago, Georgas, three police sergeants, and one retired sergeant. She says there is a deep-seated pattern and practice, and unconstitutional custom and practice, of sex discrimination against women applying for promotion to and employed in prestigious units in CPDs Special Functions Division.
Of 174 members of the division in March 2016, no more than eight were women and under Georgas, no female commanders were assigned to any unit in the division.
New unit commander too busy battling cancer for seaplanes
Georgas replaced Schloss with Mark Marianovich, who was commanding officer of the SWAT team, another unit under Georgas command.
In 2006, Marianovich (left) was among 23 officers named in a misconduct lawsuit that cost Chicago $45,000.
According to Chicago Reporter, a search warrant had been obtained for a home on South Normal Avenue, but instead officers forced their way into a home next door. They pointed their guns at the four adults and two children who lived there, ordered them to lie face-down on the floor, and handcuffed them. Even after the officers showed the plaintiffs the search warrant and were told that they were in the wrong house, the officers continued searching. When they didnt find anything, they left.
Marianovich, who died in 2017, had been diagnosed with lymphoma in late 2014, and was given positions in the CPD possibly to avoid losing salary and pension benefits. It was during this time that he replaced Schloss.
Chuck says Marianovich deep-sixed my seaplane project in 2016, right after arriving as the head of the marine unit.
(Right) A Chicago Police Department helicopter lifts off from Chicago Marine Safety Station, where the Marine and Helicopter Unit is based.
In their first and only meeting, Chuck says Marianovich told him he was not going to allow the program to proceed. Chuck says he asked Marianovich why he was contradicting the previous marine unit leader, who had studied the proposal.
Marianovich, says Chuck, responded, Well, she aint here no more and I am.
Reilly not impressed with seaplane project
What made Navy Pier an ideal location, says Chuck, was its breakwater, the barrier that protects the lock and harbor from waves. It would cost $200 million to build today, he says.
He says in 2015 that officials there were very excited about bringing a different kind of visitor to the pier, thats not just a regional tourist but a regional business person.
While the Chicago Police Department had no formal ability to allow the venture, Chuck says he contacted the department as a courtesy and to invite feedback, like he did with other agencies.
He did need approval from Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Ward includes Navy Pier and who could help with issuing a business license from the citys Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department.
The local alderman can reject a businesss application and prevent it from operating in their Ward, said Chuck.
A meeting with Reilly, let alone his approval, was elusive. He says Reilly quickly rejected the proposal, possibly concerned of its impact on Lake Point Towers, the 70-story condominium west of Navy Pier.
(Left) Alderman Reilly at an event hosted by Streeterville Organization of Active Residents in 2017.
Reilly wouldnt take a meeting with me and didnt care that I had presented to the [Lake Point Towers] condo association and...they were pretty excited about the project.
As for Marianovich, Chuck says the Marine and Helicopter Unit commander told him he had not reviewed plans for the seaplane service and had no intention to do so.
He suspects Marianovich did not want any new programs in his jurisdiction because he was too busy with medical treatments. And he suspects Marianovich told Reilly the seaplane service would not be safe.
So, this incredibly false statement by Marianovich now enabled Reilly to say, the police reviewed the plans and they are against it.
Schloss is currently the commanding officer of CPDs Major Accident Investigations Unit. Georgas now heads security at Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.
Azure Aviation Group, LLC, was dissolved in 2017.
Photos by Chicago Corporate Photography and Video, JewTube, Steven Dahlman, and Wipaire, Inc.