FI­NALLY: A NEW DAWN FOR GEN­ERAL AVI­A­TION

With the pa­tron­age by the cen­tral govern­ment for the launch of sea­plane ser­vices, the gen­eral avi­a­tion seg­ment of the In­dian civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try will fi­nally wit­ness a new dawn!

SP's Airbuz - - Front Page - BY B. K. PANDEY

ON DE­CEM­BER 12, 2017, the last day of the se­cond and fi­nal phase of cam­paign re­lated to the assem­bly elec­tions in the state of Gu­jarat, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi flew in a sea­plane, the Ko­diak 100, from Sabar­mati river in Ahmedabad to Dharoi Dam in Mehsana district. The Ko­diak 100, a prod­uct from the Quest Air­craft Com­pany of the United States, is a small high-wing trans­port air­craft that is ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing up to 15 per­sons and is pow­ered by a sin­gle Pratt & Whit­ney Canada PT6A 34 750 hp en­gine.

Not only did this flight by the Prime Min­is­ter aboard a sin­gleengine air­craft raise con­cerns among the agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for his se­cu­rity, it also gen­er­ated a mi­nor po­lit­i­cal storm, some­thing that ap­pears to have be­come a mat­ter of rou­tine and an in­te­gral part of the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions by the op­po­si­tion. While the flight by the Prime Min­is­ter on board a sea­plane was pro­jected as a part of the de­vel­op­ment agenda of the govern­ment in power, for the In­dian civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try, it has rekin­dled hopes of im­part­ing a fresh im­pe­tus to the Re­gional Con­nec­tiv­ity Scheme (RCS) or UDAN that has been an area of ma­jor fo­cus of the NDA Govern­ment. Use of sea­planes can open up a new and vi­brant seg­ment for re­gional avi­a­tion and con­se­quently pro­vide it the much needed boost.

While there are plans to pro­gres­sively com­mis­sion hun­dreds of new low-cost air­ports to en­hance con­nec­tiv­ity across the na­tion and bring af­ford­able air travel to the masses and thereby boost eco­nomic growth, the po­ten­tial of sea­plane ser­vices in the coun­try has so far re­mained un­ex­ploited. The na­tion in­clud­ing the is­land ter­ri­to­ries, has 21,000 km of wa­ter­ways which con­sist of 7,500 km of coast­line and 14,000 km of in­land wa­ter­ways by way of ma­jor rivers. Apart from these, there are around 200 lakes across the coun­try. There is there­fore im­mense scope for the rapid ex­pan­sion of sea­plane ser­vices to boost RCS with­out the need for heavy in­vest­ments that would be re­quired for build­ing and main­tain­ing run­ways.

Ef­forts in the past to ex­ploit this seg­ment of the In­dian civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try have, for one rea­son or an­other, not met with suc­cess. In Jan­uary 2011, for the first time in In­dia, sea­plane ser­vices were launched by Mar­itime En­ergy Heli Air Ser­vices Pvt Ltd (MEHAIR) in the An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands to pri­mar­ily sup­port the tourism in­dus­try, but closed down af­ter three years. MEHAIR also planned to launch sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions in Ma­ha­rash­tra and Goa as well, but never took off. Ker­ala Sea­plane, a com­mer­cial sea­plane ser­vice pro­moted by Ker­ala Tourism In­fra­struc­ture Lim­ited, was launched on June 2, 2013, at Kol­lam with the in­au­gu­ral flight be­ing op­er­ated by Kairali Avi­a­tion. How­ever, com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions could not com­mence due to op­po­si­tion from the lo­cal fish­ing com­mu­nity. In 2014, a sea­plane ser­vice was launched to con­nect Mumbai to tourist des­ti­na­tions in the West­ern Ghats, pro­vid­ing an al­ter­na­tive to four or five hour long drives on the Mumbai-Pune ex­press­way. How­ever that ser­vice did not find a mar­ket as it failed to draw clien­tele.

How­ever, things are now set to change. All ini­tia­tives in the past to ex­ploit this seg­ment of the civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try were un­der­taken and sup­ported lo­cally with­out the in­volve­ment of the govern­ment at the cen­tre. There is now a par­a­digm shift as is ev­i­dent from a state­ment by Nitin Gad­kari, Min­is­ter for Ship­ping, who said, “All play­ers are wel­come to en­ter the mar­ket once the gates are opened. We will for­mu­late a policy for this in three months. It has been a dream that I have nur­tured. Con­ver­sion of rivers into wa­ter­ways and the avail­abil­ity of of lakes and dams that can be con­verted into air­ports with min­i­mal ex­pen­di­ture on small float­ing jet­ties.” Ashok Ga­jap­athi Raju, Min­is­ter for Civil Avi­a­tion, termed the move as an ex­ten­sion of UDAN scheme. He said, “If all goes ac­cord­ing to what we think we are ca­pa­ble of, in the third round of bid­ding for UDAN, these air­craft can also come in.”

With the pa­tron­age by the cen­tral govern­ment for the launch of sea­plane ser­vices, the gen­eral avi­a­tion seg­ment of the In­dian civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try will fi­nally wit­ness a new dawn!

Rekin­dling Hope: Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi Be­fore Board­ing the Ko­diak 100 Sea­plane in Ahmedabad

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