Seaplane operations capable of transforming the tourism map of God’s Own Country have hit turbulent weather.
The State government had to work hard to convert the project into a reality. Yet the inaugural flight had to circumnavigate the departing station and land there itself due to unfavourable weather at the destination — Punnamada lake in Alappuzha. The weather apart, a cold reception from fishermen was awaiting the amphibian craft. The abandoned trip turned out to be a blessing in disguise both for the operators and the authorities. But the real issue is yet to be sorted out.
The bogey of protest in Alappuzha is spearheaded by Matsya Thozhilali Federation on the ground that the flights will disrupt the free movement of hundreds who eke out a living by laying nets to catch fish and collecting clam from the lake. The president of the Federation and AITUC leader, T.J.Anjalose, said the government had not conducted any study on the impact of the seaplane operation on the livelihood of fishermen.
“A one kilometer radius area is being earmarked for the take-off and landing of the seaplane. It would cover over 500 acres. The government is proposing to operate the project from 22 sites. If such large areas are kept out of the fishermen’s reach, it would harm the livelihood of fishermen,” he said.
“The government is relying upon the report prepared by Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited. Will a company operating the services find fault with the project,” he asks. “No environmental impact study has been conducted.”
But fishermen are not the only people who earn a living out of the lake. About 1,600 houseboats operate in Vembanad Lake. “We are waiting for the seaplane to land in Alappuzha,” says Jacob Samuel, president of All Kerala Houseboats Owners Association, a body of over 200 houseboat owners. “The seaplane will be the harbinger of prosperity for the tourism industry in Alappuzha."
The fishermen generally move about in the lake after 5 p.m. and the seaplane operations during daytime will have no impact on their work. He also contends the argument that a large area is being segregated for the landing and take-off. A small craft needs limited space for operation and misinformation is being spread on the extent of area being segregated, he says.
In fact, the detailed project report prepared by Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited for Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Limited, states that the apron area for manoeuvring in the dock area is approximately 1.5 times the wing span or 1.5 times the overall length of the aircraft, whichever is greater. The take-off and landing area, although of considerable dimensions, does not necessarily have to be closed off to other marine activities.
Significantly, Cessna TU 206G, the class of vehicle which is slated to operate in Kerala at present, has an aircraft length of 32 feet and wing span of 39 feet.