Dawn for Seaplane Services in the Country

Seaplanes are definitely set to redefine the way the air passenger in India flies

Issue: 4 / 2018By B.K. PandeyPhoto(s): By Mehair

In the second week of December last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made waves when he flew in a privately owned seaplane from the Sabarmati River to Dharoi Dam in his home state. This historic flight was aimed at providing the muchneeded impetus to to exploit the potential of seaplane services in India and thus revolutionise the public transportation industry. India’s water diversity renders the nation ideally suited to develop a wide network of seaplane services. With a coastline of over 7500 km including those of the Island territories in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, around 14,500 km of navigable inland waterways and hundreds of large size lakes and dams across the country, the potential for seaplane services in India is immense. Seaplanes are definitely set to redefine the way the air passenger in India flies.

Since 2010, when the then Minister of Civil Aviation Praful Patel, launched the first seaplane flight in the country at the Juhu aerodrome that was appropriately named as ‘Jal Hans’, there have been several attempts in this area by agencies both in the government and the private sector, to launch commercial services. However, for one reason or another, efforts made in this regime have not been successful in making a mark on the national scene as the entrepreneurs have encountered insurmountable problems and have had to shut down on account of inadequate financial viability or inflexible regulatory provisions.

India’s first commercial seaplane service was undertaken in Andaman and Nicobar Islands on January 23, 2011 by pioneers Maritime Energy Heli Air Services. Their services were later extended to Maharashtra and Goa. Seabird Seaplane Pvt Ltd incorporated in 2012 had announced their intent to commence services in Kerala and Lakshadweep. But none of these could sustain operations. In Kerala, a commercial seaplane service was launched by Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Limited on June 02, 2013 to connect the numerous waterways in the State. The inaugural flight was operated by Kairali Aviation. The Kerala seaplane service was touted as the first such service in mainland India. It was planned to be extended in August 2013 for tourism. Unfortunately, plans for launching this new phase was abandoned due to opposition by the fishing community. Another seaplane service was launched in 2014 in the state of Maharashtra to connect Mumbai to tourist destinations in the Western Ghats. The intention was to provide an alternative route to the Mumbai-Pune expressway that involved road travel of five to six hours. However, the service was suspended as there were not enough tourists to take advantage of this facility making the venture commercially unviable.

However, there are indications that things are set to change under the current NDA government. The first issue that seems to have been addressed is that of stringent regulatory provisions regarding the number of engines on the seaplane. The existing regulations require aircraft employed for regular commercial operations to be fitted with two engines. With single-engine aircraft, the operating costs would come down significantly making commercial seaplane operations financially viable. A committee under the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has been set up to review the regulatory provisions. At the annual session of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), RN Choubey, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation stated, “We had constituted a committee within the DGCA with respect to feasibility of utilising seaplanes for scheduled commercial services and the committee has given a positive response, which means that a single-engine twin-pilot service would be possible; but there would be certain requirements that need to be met.”

Apart from the DGCA, major private players are now looking to exploit the potential in this segment of the Indian civil aviation industry. SpiceJet has plans to procure 100 amphibian aircraft to foray into this segment. The airline has already conducted sea trials at Mumbai that were witnessed by Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways and Ashok Gajapati Raju, the former Minister of Civil Aviation.

In the second week of August this year, the Ministry of Civil Aviation approved a proposal for setting up of water aerodromes in the country, with Chilika Lake in Odisha, Sardar Sarovar Dam and Sabarmati River Front in Gujarat being identified in the first phase for development of such facilities. Finally, with the recent steps by the government, seaplane services in India appear set to become a reality!