Seaplane from Male lands in Kochi, opening old wounds and dreams

The Gujarat-bound seaplane will be a part of a tourism project connecting the Statue of Unity. Meanwhile, Kerala is still trying to emerge from our seaplane tourism failure, despite immense potential
Southern Naval Command officers with the twin-engine seaplane that landed in Kochi to refuel
Southern Naval Command officers with the twin-engine seaplane that landed in Kochi to refuel

Enthralling Kochi residents, an Ahmedabad-bound seaplane landed at the Venduruthy backwaters from Male in the Maldives on Sunday, October 25. The plane landed in Kochi for refuelling purpose, said a press release by the Southern Naval Command, who assisted the seaplane team with their technical difficulty.

Indian Navy, Spicejet, and members of the district administration welcomed the crew of the 19-seater plane, which can accommodate around 12 passengers. The plane will be a part of the tourism project connecting the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad to the Statue of Unity. “Seaplanes are a natural choice of connectivity between mainland and Lakshadweep islands and inland water channels at Kochi and sheltered lagoons in the islands offer ideal space for the seaplanes to land and take-off,” the release added.

As many are excited about the seaplane, some have taken to social media to talk about the 2013 Kerala seaplane project. The latter was supposed to have been one of the first commercial seaplane projects in mainland India, adding to the tourism scope in Kerala. However, the project faced many financial and political hurdles and had to be shut down. Inaugurated by the UDF government in 2013 at Kollam and operated by Kairali Aviation, the commercial service stopped after severe criticism from the local fishing community.

The government also initiated the project for backwaters in Ernakulam, Kasargod, and Alappuzha. However, certain political groups, indigenous communities, and activists began to voice their criticism of the project. They claimed that such a project could damage the ecology and hurt the livelihood of the fisherfolk community.

Apart from Kairali Aviation, Bharat Aviation, Pawan Hans, Mehair, and Wings Aviation were assigned to have handled the services within the state. The state government had already arranged for the docking and transferring of passengers. The administration had also readied floating jetties, location buoys, and safety and scanning equipment in anticipation of the project. After the services shut down, the state transferred most of the equipment over to the Tourism department, while the location buoys and the floating jetties soon began to break down due to ignorance and lack of maintenance.

A few experts noted that Kerala, apart from Maharashtra and Goa, has immense potential to turn the seaplane service into a thriving and possibly lucrative business. However, a seaplane service started by the Kerala government in 2015, to Lakshadweep, not only failed to create revenue but burned Rs 15-crore hole in the budget. This is not including the private investment that went into it. Officials cited a lack of research in regards to financial and geographical viability. Adding to this, the protests from the fisherfolk community put a stop to it before the project could even spread its wings.

While the seaplane landing in Kochi is very exciting, the government must explore and try to create a viable condition where the commercial service can co-exist with environmental requirements.

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