Saturday, January 06, 2018

Navigating a future for seaplanes will be tough

Mumbai: Seaplanes seem to be making quite a splash in the news these days. Even before Prime Minister Narendra Modi capped his Gujarat campaign with an eye-catching takeoff from the Sabarmati river to a touchdown in the Dharoi dam, seaplane services were being discussed by the government.
Just a few days before that, on December 9, transport minister Nitin Gadkari and civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had come to Girgaum Chowpatty in Mumbai to watch the trial touchdown of a SpiceJetBSE 0.25 % seaplane that had taken off from Mumbai airport 10 minutes earlier.

SpiceJet had earlier announced ambitious plans to buy 100 seaplanes from the Japanese company Setouchi Holdings at a cost of $4 million each. This was quite a leap for a company that had been flirting with bankruptcy just a few years ago, but with the evident support of the Union ministers, it felt ready to expand this sector in a radical way.

SpiceJet chairman Ajay Singh has been quoted as saying that seaplanes are the answer to the shortage of airports in India. "The basic logic for this is that in India we need last-mile connectivity," he said. "The amphibian plane opens up a lot of areas, creates a lot of flexibility."

Gadkari, who has been linked to disruptive change ever since he promoted 50 flyovers across Mumbai in the 1990s, expansively spoke about the potential for 10,000 seaplanes. "We have 3-4 lakh ponds in India, plenty of dams, 2,000 river ports, 200 small ports and 12 major ports," he said, implying that all of them could be accessed by seaplanes. He pointed to destinations like Shirdi, which could be easily accessed this way.
There hasn't been this much interest in water-based flight in India for over 80 years. It was back in September 1930 that the Times of India (TOI) used words very similar to the minister's today: "To the layman, the advantages of flying boats are obvious, as at present unbridged rivers and backwaters, together with the absence of a coastal railway except for a stretch of a hundred miles between Mangalore and Calicut, reduce all transit down the West Coast to the pace of a steamroller."
06/01/18 Vikram Doctor/Economic Times