NEW DELHI: Stepping up the government’s efforts to introduce sea-planes in a big way, Union minister Nitin Gadkari has said that India could have around 10,000 amphibian planes — a number far greater than the total fleet size of all domestic airlines combined. However, experts are not convinced of the plausibility of this estimate.
“I have been talking about seaplanes. If it starts in India, we have the potential to start 10,000 seaplanes. We have three to four lakh ponds in India, plenty of dams, 2,000 river ports, 200 small ports and 12 major ports. It will cost less,” Gadkari was quoted as saying by a news agency.
Seaplanes have been a point of discussion recently in the country after pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi landing on the Sabarmati river in a single-engine seaplane during the Gujarat election were circulated in the media. The government, too, has kept the segment alive with numerous announcements. Gadkari has also asked his civil aviation counterpart Ashok Gajapathi Raju to explore a regulatory regime for single-engine seaplanes to facilitate introduction of such planes in the country as early as possible.
At present, the number of seaplanes in India is in single digits and there is no regulatory framework for them in place to operate. “Infrastructure for seaplanes is close to non-existence. Air corridor needs to be mapped. Radar and other necessary equipment and permissions have to be put in place. I am not sure whether these things have been worked out,” said Jaijit Bhattacharya, partner and head, economic, regulatory and policy advisory at KPMG.
Currently, there are seaplanes operating in places like Goa and Andaman and Nicobar Islands but the light-weight planes have been pulled out from other places due to high cost of flying.
Moreover, the unavailability of pilots to fly seaplanes, absence of domestic manufacturing, maintenance, repair and operation facility, building the infrastructure and other challenges make it a long road for sea planes to become a common sight in the Indian sky. “It will take some decades for 10,000 seaplanes to fly in India,” said an expert requesting anonymity.