Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mighty ride on a seaplane during the election campaign in Gujarat has generated immense interest about seaplanes. “It is not possible to make airports everywhere. We are going to start 106 waterways,” said Modi after the ride. Seaplanes, or flying boats, depending on how it is made, is operational in countries like Canada, Japan, the US and Maldives. In India, it will be thrown open to the public soon. Viability testing is on the cards. The ministries of civil aviation and water resources and road transport are holding discussions on when exactly to launch seaplanes for the public and to decide which ministry gets to control it.
The Union government is in talks with Japan’s Setouchi Holdings—which runs flights using Kodiak 100 amphibious aircrafts produced by US-based Quest Aircraft—to purchase many amphibious planes in the next three months. SpiceJet has apparently shown interest in buying amphibious planes and has even conducted trial flights with Setouchi’s ten-seater some days ago.
Said Mansukh Mandaviya, Union minister of state for road transport and water resources, to THE WEEK, “I can safely say that the wait for seaplanes for the public is less than a year away. Roughly six to seven months away. Talks are on at various levels.” Mandaviya said there are some places in the country which cannot afford airports. “But they have good inland water system in place. Seaplanes will become functional in such places and help boost tourism. We will come up with the list of locations where seaplanes would be used. A place like Somnath in Gujarat, for instance, doesn't have an airport. But it is close to the sea and seaplanes can be used to ferry devotees,” said Mandaviya.
Mandaviya said seaplanes would start plying in sea and inland waters like the Ganges and Kaveri, thereby connecting important locations in the country. He said the Union government will not give preferential treatment to Gujarat when it comes to seaplanes. “We want every part of the country to get developed in an equal way. It is wrong to think that we focus only on Gujarat and states where the BJP is in power. Seaplanes will thrive across the length and breadth of the country. Just wait and see,” said Mandaviya.
He said seaplanes would become India’s favourite mode of transport in a few years.
According to sources in the ministry of civil aviation, all the norms for seaplanes would be completed in two to three months. The government is likely to buy as many amphibious flights in the days to come from Setouchi Holdings. Spicejet, most likely, would be operating seaplanes in the country, which will be an extension of the government’s Udan scheme that aims to better regional connectivity and make air travel cheaper.
Modi’s recent jaunt has revived seaplane hopes in Kerala. Kerala Seaplane, a commercial service promoted by Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Limited, was launched in Kollam in southern Kerala in 2013, with the first flight being operated by a company called Kairali Aviation. But seaplanes could not be launched for tourists as the fishermen community in the state opposed it. As a result of protests, destinations of seaplanes in the state had to be changed. The government then constituted a committee to study the effects of seaplane operations on the sustenance of the fishing community in the state. The report is still awaited. A seaplane, that was stationed in Kochi, has remained grounded since then because of uncertainty. Apart from connecting important places in the state, the company also had plans to ferry passengers from Kochi to Lakshadweep. The necessary clearances from the civil aviation ministry are also awaited. “Seaplanes have a huge potential in a state like Kerala, which is filled with beautiful backwaters,” said Mathew T. Thomas, Kerala’s minister for water resources, to THE WEEK, “With all the talk of seaplanes now, I hope seaplanes will become a reality in Kerala.”
Seaplanes can carry from nine to fourteen passengers on board, depending on the model. It can fly up to 11,000 feet above the ground, though the usual cruise in most cases is around 2,000 feet above the ground. The speed of a seaplane varies from 600 to 1,000 kilometres per hour. The American seaplane fighter, Sea Dart, is the fastest seaplane that travels at 1,328km per hour.
Seaplanes were used by the British navy in World War I and World War II. The first successful seaplane trip was in 1910. Prominent seaplane operators in the world include Tropic Oceans Airways, Seawings Venice and Harbour Air Seaplanes.