Aircraft reaches New Delhi for mandatory clearances

Ignoring mounting protests from eco-groups and traditional fishermen, the State government has given the nod to Kerala Tourism to kick off the seaplane project aimed at linking remote tourist destinations by this month.

The first seaplane for Kerala has reached New Delhi for the mandatory clearances from the Customs and the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and is expected to arrive in Kochi, the base of the seaplane operations, later this week.

The five-plus-one seat plane has been taken on lease by a Bangalore-based company from a Dubai-based aviation company. Tourism Secretary Suman Billa told The Hindu that the aim was to enable the takeoff of the seaplane, preferably on May 27 from Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam.

The project was showcased at the Emerging Kerala meet in Kochi last year to attract investors from across the world. Water-dromes, floating jetties, and other facilities have been built at Ashtamudi, Kumarakom, Vembanad, and Bakel. Houseboats have been deployed as terminals at the seaplane landing and takeoff sites with lounges for tourists.

At present, only one of the five operators who had been given the nod has come forward to commence the services. “Others have informed that they have placed the orders and would soon join us. By the end of the year, we expect seven to eight seaplanes in the State,” he said.

The international airports in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, and Kozhikode and the one at Mangalore will act as base stations. The State-owned Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Ltd is the nodal agency for the project aimed at ensuring ‘last mile connectivity by air to various tourist destinations.’

The project envisages connecting 25 tourist destinations and the services will be in the prioritised circuit, Mr. Billa said.

The Ashtamudi, Punnamada, Vembanad, and Kochi backwaters and Kottappuram are the prioritised destinations. The operations shall be based on zero-subsidy, open sky policy. The seaplanes will be allowed only to take the aerial route and the operations will be limited to daytime, he said. On the apprehensions raised by environmental groups and fishermen, Mr. Billa said the detailed project report had spelled out all aspects. Another round of discussions is to be held with fishermen groups on Wednesday here to take them into confidence.

“No refuelling and maintenance has been permitted at the water-dromes taking into account the environmental aspects and the fragility of the ecology,” he added. Such activities will be at the base airports. The Airport Security Group of the Kerala Police will take care of the security of the water-dromes. They have been trained and certified by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security.

The government will have a facilitator/regulator role and the seaplane operations would be promoted and marketed to the extent possible by Kerala Tourism.