Thursday 26 November 2020, 08:39 PM
Seaplanes in India – The Way Forward
By Dr. R.K. Tyagi Former CMD – HAL & Pawan Hans | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 11/7/2020 10:32:04 AM
Seaplanes in India – The Way Forward

BACKGROUND

The first commercial seaplane services in Gujarat, connecting Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad to the Statue of Unity in Kevadia district was inaugurated on 31 October 2020 by our Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji, on the eve of the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The other places to follow are Dharoi dam in Mehsana district to connect Ambaji and Shatrunjay dam in Palitana of Bhavnagar district as well as Tapi in the next phase. Spice Jet has deployed a 19-seater plane, which will be able to accommodate 14 passengers.

A seaplane is a fixed-winged aeroplane designed for taking off and landing on water. It offers the public with the speed of an aeroplane with the utility of a boat. There are two main types of a seaplane: flying boats (often called hull seaplanes) and floatplanes. The bottom of a flying boat’s fuselage is its main landing gear. This is usually supplemented with smaller floats near the wingtips, called wing or tip floats. The hull of a flying boat holds the crew, passengers and cargo; it has many features in common with the hull of a ship or a boat.

While going down the memory lane, I recall my visit to Andaman ten years back in October, 2010  as CMD Pawan Hans accompanied by Shri Sanjay Kumar, Head Marketing and Capt. Irshad Ahmad, DGCA safety expert to establish the requisite infrastructure for the seaplane operation in a 50-50 joint venture with Andaman administration. A very dynamic officer, Shri Ravichandran from civil aviation of A&N helped in preparing the waterdrome facility, speed boat to ferry pax from seashore to pontoons with the capacity of 10 pax, sanitation, an inflatable boat and jetty. DGCA, under guidance of Dr. SNA Zaidi , the then secretary, civil aviation and Shri R.P. Sahi, Jt. DGCA, came up with the requisite CARs (civil aviation requirement) specifying the minimum requirement for grant of permit to operate non scheduled air transport services and other licensing and training requirements. Shri Sanjeev Bahl, the then ED of Pawan Hans helped in modifying the AOA (article of association) of Pawan Hans, finalising the contract negotiations and costing the route provisions. On 30th Dec 2010, the first seaplane commercial service for Andaman Islands was launched by Shri Praful Patel, the then minister of civil aviation, at Juhu Airport in Mumbai.

THE POTENTIAL

India has a coastline of 7500 kms and 14500 kms of navigable waterways hosting several major cities. Introduction of seaplanes on these waterways, besides being a cheaper and revolutionary concept can also help reduce congestion on road, rail and air transportation within the country. There are innumerable natural as well as manmade lakes like Tehri etc. which can facilitate seaplanes without much investment. We have seen the potential of seaplanes in our neighboring country Maldives which has a large fleet of seaplanes for tourism and connectivity.

Sea planes are not only a tourist attraction; they are also very useful in search and rescue operations at sea and other large water bodies. Fortunately in India, we have many water bodies scattered all around big cities like Bhopal, Bengaluru, Odisha (Chilika Lake), Kerala and at many other places. Seaplanes can provide good connectivity avoiding hassles of road congestions.

Looking at the vast coastline of India, we can explore more locations for waterdromes that will provide more points of vigilance on state sea coastlines. Although, coastal security is the job of Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guards, but they do not have airplanes which can land on sea.

There is an immediate potential of introducing more than hundred seaplanes in India by way of transport/tourist potential in Goa, Lakshadweep, Orissa, Sundarbans, Kerala backwaters, Dal Lake and routes like Juhu-Lonavala and Nashik-Pune etc.

THE WAY FORWARD

For last few years as President of Aeronautical Society of India, we have been engaging with Shri Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road, Transport and Highways and Dr. Saraswat, member Niti Aayog  on potential of Seaplanes operations, MROs and also possibility of manufacture under ‘Make in India’ program inspired by our Hon’ble Prime Minister. Seaplanes have a great potential in providing cheaper transportation solutions along with the technology induction in India. Several policy steps can speed up their induction in India.

First, the Gujarat experience of seaplane has underlined the fact again that for successful seaplane operations all the stakeholders like state government, MoCA, DGCA and operators need to come together to share the cost, enact relevant laws and create enabling environment.

Second, MoCA in association with industry bodies like FICCI, CII can initiate formal policy initiatives for seaplane infrastructure development, air safety, security and regulatory issues and also framework for stakeholder’s responsibility matrix. Pawan Hans being National Helicopter Company and a pioneer in seaplane operations need to play a more enabling role. Recently, FICCI with me as task force chair on General aviation and Helicopters worked on a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on helicopters. A similar study can be undertaken for wider introduction of seaplane operations in India.

Third, involvement of defence forces, Indian Navy and Coast Guard can make very effective use of seaplanes in safeguarding our territorial integrity along 7,500 Kms long coastline and the millions of Square kms exclusive economic zone of India. Indian Coast Guard for last more than 10 years is unsuccessfully tendering and re-tendering their Helicopter acquisition program. Seaplanes would be very cost effective and efficient solution for them. Recently Ministry of Defence has published the DAP-2020 (Defence Acquisition Procedure) in which a new category ‘leasing of equipment’ has also been introduced. Indian coast guard may consider this option for use of sea planes in their operations.

Fourth, Niti Aayog may consider seaplane for manufacture, maintenance, repair and overhaul under the objective of ‘Make in India’ and Atmanirbhar Bharat. Indian aviation industry with more than 150 companies being part of global supply chain is now fully competent to undertake such a creative challenge.

My earnest request to all the stakeholders is that the thrust in seaplane operation as encouraged by our Hon’ble Prime Minister Modi on 31st October, 2020 be utilised for strengthening the seaplane operations in India lest it may end as another 2010 experiment in Andamans. India indeed is a country most suitable for seaplane operations and MRO support systems.

Dr. R.K. Tyagi

 

Tags:

commercial,seaplane,Sabarmati,River,Ahmedabad,Statue,Kevadia,Shri Narendra Modi,

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