Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on Monday blamed heavy fog over New Delhi for the delayed flights, adding that the airport officials had handled the situation quite well. “When the visibility drops below 50 metres, flight operations are stopped universally,” he told journalists on the sidelines of a programme introducing seaplanes in India.
“Irresponsible statements shouldn't be made during such times. The preparedness of Indian airports is according to international standards,” he said.
In a boost to coastal tourism, Mr. Patel launched the first seaplane service in the country at the Juhu aerodrome here and named it ‘Jal Hans.' “This will benefit tourism in the Andaman and Nicobar islands,” he said.
The amphibian plane will run in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. A joint venture has been formed between Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL) and the Andaman and Nicobar administration on an equal profit-sharing basis.
“For five years, there will be exclusive rights to give service to the islands,” Sanjay Kumar, Head of marketing, said.
“The pilot project will run at Port Blair for six months,” he added.
The Cessna 208A seaplane, which has a seating capacity of eight passengers and two pilots, is Canada-made, six years old and costs around Rs. 8 crore. It can travel up to 250 km an hour and can land on most calm waters. It can also land using the wheels configuration.
Dr. S.N.A. Zaidi, Secretary, Civil Aviation, said the service would connect Port Blair and Havelock and subsequently other islands in North Andaman. “It will operate from the airport in Port Blair, and from a waterdrome in Havelock and Diglipur,” he said.
The Ministry had already set up a regulatory framework for seaplane pilots and a study would soon be conducted to draw a roadmap for the expansion of seaplanes in India in the next 20-25 years.
Mr. Patel too called for the expansion of these services and said the government had allowed 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment in the operation of seaplanes. “I call upon the PHHL to form a subsidiary, invite partnership from outside India to introduce more private sector in this field,” he said.
“If we wish to see India connected, seaplane and helicopter operations play a very vital and important role. India has a 7,400-km coastline. This can be implemented in so many other places,” he said, adding that the introduction of ‘Jal Hans' was like a dream come true.