PM Modi inaugurates seaplane services to Statue of Unity

First ride: The seaplane with Prime Minister Narendra Modi aboard lands at the water aerodrome on the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched the country’s first seaplane service between the Statue of Unity near Kevadiya in Gujarat's Narmada district and Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. He travelled in the maiden flight of the twin-engine plane from pond-3 close to Sardar Sarovar Dam and landed at Sabarmati riverfront where a water aerodrome has been set up.

The 19-seater seaplane will be used for flights between the Sabarmati riverfront and Kevadia as a part of the regional connectivity scheme. Initially, the plane will make four trips a day.

DGCA regulations

The twin-engine Otter aircraft operated by SpiceJet for the seaplane service is nearly 50-years-old, though India’s aviation regulatory body, the DGCA, has reservations on allowing planes older than 20 years to be imported into the country.

The illuminated Sardar Patel bridge at Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, ahead of the launch of the seaplane project by PM Modi, on Friday October 30, 2020.

The illuminated Sardar Patel bridge at Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, ahead of the launch of the seaplane project by PM Modi, on Friday October 30, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji


Further, SpiceJet has wetleased the aircraft from the Maldives Island Aviation Services — a wholly government owned entity — which means that both the aircraft and its crew belong to a foreign entity. The aircraft bears a Maldivian registration code, 8Q ISC.

This arrangement for renting aircraft and crew is allowed by the DGCA only in “emergency situations” and its rules prohibit their use for “capacity or route expansion”.

The plane saw its first flight on July 14, 1971 and over the past five decades the aircraft has changed hands 13 times with owners in Canada, Turkey and Sri Lanka.

“All safety regulations have been complied with in order to commence sea plane operations,” a spokesperson of the Ministry of Civil Aviation said in response to a question on violation of DGCA rules.

An airline spokesperson said the plane had undergone regular maintenance and overhaul, adding, “all the required SoPs are in line with operational guidance on seaplane operations.”

The DGCA's Civil Aviation Requirements or rules require pressurised aircraft imported and used in passenger services to not be older than 18 years. But for unpressurised aircraft such as the one used on Friday, a decision is taken on a case-by-case basis though it doesn’t “allow such aircraft which are more than 20 years old”. The age limit for cargo aircraft is 25 years.

The DGCA explains that the reason for imposing age restrictions is to ensure aircraft “does not have problems of corrosion, fatigue, metal fatigue, cracks” which can be missed even during major maintenance checks. However, it recognises that foreign countries operating aircraft older than the design-economic life may be better equipped than India to ensure their proper upkeep and modifications as per advice of manufacturers and regulatory bodies.

“The DGCA would have done their due diligence in order to allow the aircraft to be imported. Old aircraft aren’t necessarily unsafe as long as they are maintained as per OEM's (Original Equipment Manufacturer) requirements and updated from time to time. As aircraft get old, they become expensive to maintain, which is primarily why airlines do not fly them for too long,” explained Vinamra Longani, Head of Operations at Sarin & Company, a law firm that specialises on aviation related matters.

Though the airline and the Ministry of Civil Aviation claim that this is the first-ever seaplane journey in the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had undertaken a similar ride from Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad to Dharoi dam in Mehsana while campaigning during the Gujarat elections in 2017. Pegged then as the first sea plane, the Jal Hans was inaugurated by then Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel in 2010.

The Kerala government also proposed seaplane services in 2013 through Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Limited, but it failed to take off due to protests from fishermen. A few private entities, including Meh Air provided the service in Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshwadeep islands, but these wrapped soon after because of lack of commercial viability.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 7:40:56 PM |

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