Ceravolo and Veltre both say they spare no expense when it comes to safety.
They plan to add a nine-passenger Cessna Caravan to Tropic Ocean, which now includes only the 1976 four-passenger Cessna that Ceravolo flew cross country and through a snowstorm over the Grand Canyon.
"Nick and I have been putting blood, sweat and tears into this," Ceravolo said. "We've been working for no money to get this thing going. Slowly, we're becoming profitable."
The company offers adventure sight-seeing excursions, with trips to explore the reef or private islands in the Keys. The plane will land on the water to allow passengers to snorkel, dive or picnic.
The seaplane draws just 20 inches of water and can safely land in three feet of water. It turned heads recently when it landed near the Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar in Islamorada and tied up to a mooring ball. Veltre said he makes sure to avoid landing in ecologically restricted areas and bird sanctuaries.
Veltre even has responded to a medical emergency. A man aboard a yacht that was anchored near the Abacos Islands in the northern Bahamas recently called requesting immediate transportation for his doctor in Miami.
Veltre arrived at the Miami Seaplane Base on Key Biscayne to pick up the doctor, a veterinarian. The patient: a 30-year-old parakeet who apparently had a stroke.
The bird "is doing fine and now enjoying his life in the Bahamas," Veltre said.
The plane was featured in August in an Eddie Bauer photo shoot near Pigeon Key. For upcoming Fantasy Fest in October, Ceravolo is working on a "Get off the Rock" special for Conchs who want to avoid the 10-day debauchery.
Ceravolo said he has turned down potential investors because he and Veltre don't want the bottom line to chart the company's course. They want to offer discounted or free trips to causes and people dear to their hearts, including wounded warriors and those doing conservation work, especially for sharks. They also want to be as eco-friendly as possible.
"We're 100 percent carbon neutral at no cost to our customers," Ceravolo said.
Tropic Ocean Airways purchases carbon offsets through TerraPass, a company that funds projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Green lubricants and cleaners are used. The company also has invested in a high-tech engine monitor that eliminates unnecessary fuel burn.
"We're not looking to make millions off this and sell the company someday," Ceravolo said. "We really love what we do. We'd love to hand this off to our kids."
GO FOR A RIDE
Tropic Ocean Airways offers travel service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Bimini and beachside or dockside resorts. They have made several trips to swank places in the Keys, including Little Palm Island, Cheeca Lodge and Hawks Cay Resort.
Prices start as low as $99 for some legs between Miami and Key West. A half-day tour to a Keys island for lunch and snorkeling costs $249 per person.
For more information: http://www.flytropic.com, 800-767-0897