With India's first seaplane ride, PM Modi sets vision for 106 waterways

1 / 1

With India's first seaplane ride, PM Modi sets vision for 106 waterways

Last Saturday, SpiceJet conducted a successful trial flight of a seaplane that landed at the Girgaon Chowpatty in Mumbai, in the presence of Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapthi Raju and the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Water Resources Nitin Gadkari.

So far, you would have only seen them in Hollywood flicks - James Bond, in particular, is quite fond of them - and in glossy travel spreads of some luxury island resort. But now you'll get to see them live across the country. We're talking about seaplanes, which became an unlikely buzzword ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted "Tomorrow at 9:30 am I will travel from Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad to Dharoi Dam via sea plane." This would be the country's first-ever seaplane flight, not including the recent trials held in Mumbai.

The historic flight is now complete, and with that, Modi has not only ended his election campaign in Gujarat dramatically, grabbing the nation's attention along the way, but has also flagged off his ambition project to revolutionise transportation in India using these amphibious aircrafts. "The Congress people would never have imagined such development. It is not possible to make airports everywhere", he said on Monday, adding that "We are working to develop waterways. We are going to start 106 waterways." This is a part of the Waterways Bill that was passed by the Parliament last year.

Last Saturday, SpiceJet conducted a successful trial flight of a seaplane that landed at the Girgaon Chowpatty in Mumbai, in the presence of Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapthi Raju and the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Water Resources Nitin Gadkari. The low-cost airline is reportedly working on a cost-effective business plan to start operating small amphibious planes in the next 12 months, and is in talks with Japan's Setouchi Holdings to purchase 100 Kodiak amphibious planes. If the deal comes through, SpiceJet would become the first airline to boast such planes in its fleet. "Airports are in short supply in India. Lots of the growth in India is happening in small markets, but those small markets have little or no connectivity. The amphibian plane opens up a lot of areas, creates a lot of flexibility," SpiceJet Chairman Ajay Singh told Bloomberg earlier in October.

Amphibious aircraft can take off and land on both short landing strips as well as water bodies, therefore though they are slower than the usual land planes, they are far more versatile. They also have a longer range than helicopters. Hence, introducing seaplane operations in the country will help bring remote areas into the mainstream aviation network without the high cost of building airports and runways-after all, large waterbodies can be found everywhere. Moreover, seaplanes can also help ease traffic in busy airports like Mumbai.

According to media reports, norms for seaplanes are expected to be finalised in three months in consultation with the civil aviation ministry. Gadkari, who had previously announced that proposals are being examined for introducing seaplanes at Yamuna, Ganga and other water bodies, invited Setouchi to Make in India following the Mumbai test flight. At the function, he went as far as to say that if found commercially viable, he would like seaplanes to be manufactured in Nagpur. Raju meanwhile has been quoted termed the move as an extension of the government's Udan scheme that aims to improve regional connectivity and make air travel more affordable.

But while the future certainly seems promising, one can't help but remember the country's failed first experiment in this direction. Back in 2014, a seaplane service connecting Mumbai to tourist destinations in the Western Ghats had failed to find any takers. Perhaps we'll be second time lucky.