Kerala takes to seaplanes to beat tourists blues

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Apr 5 2012, 09:01am hrs
For Kerala, it seems, the road to attracting tourists is through water and air. The state is building its water transport infrastructure to squeeze the most out of tourism, its fastest-growing revenue stream. Besides working on a hovercraft traffic network for its backwaters in Kollam, Alapuzha, Kottayam and Kochi the states tourism backbone it is also looking at seaplane connectivity for the main tourist destinations.

It is setting up a R300-crore seaplane company under the public-private partnership or PPP model. The proposed company would set up terminals alongside water bodies.

At present, there are many tourists who fly in and out of Kochi without touching down at the famed Kumarakom backwaters because of road traffic congestion. At times, even a trip along the Vembanad backwaters, India's longest lake, is cut short due to road traffic. The backwaters of Kerala are among the 50 must-see in a lifetime destinations that National Geographic had prescribed. In 2011-12, Kerala Tourism had secured about R17,000 crore in revenue mainly because of its backwater tourism.

There is no need for runways and land acquisition, that's the chief attraction of the seaplane project proposal, Kerala tourism miniser AP Anil Kumar told FE. They would need roughly 100 metres space in water bodies to take off and land, depending on the weight and passenger capacity.

The seaplane service is expected to connect different backwater and lake tourist spots in Kerala. We will not buy aircraft but will encourage private operators to introduce seaplanes on a trial basis, said an official of Infrastructure Kerala (Inkel), a PPP company set up to improve infrastructure in the state.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had recently issued guidelines for seaplanes and eligibility criteria for pilots. The DGCA guidelines cover passenger safety norms, emergency evacuation procedures and right of way and navigation on the waterbed. The pilots would have to undergo specialised training to operate seaplanes. Seaplanes would be guided by air traffic controllers and DGCA norms, while the vehicles would be operated by private sector, said a recent Inkel feasibility study.

The states hospitality outfit KTDC is in touch with Bangalore-based aerospace firms that are evaluating the scope of operating seaplanes in Kerala. For instance, Taneja Aerospace and Aviation has collaborated with Russian defence agency International Institute for Advanced Aerospace Technologies to design the Pelican-4, a twin-engine amphibious seaplane. A Kerala government firm has booked six seaplanes made in our plant, said a Taneja Aerospace official.

Meanwhile, the Corporation of Cochins hovercraft company plan is in the draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) stage, with R10 lakh earmarked for the project. We expect to make Kochi the nerve centre of a hovercraft network that connects major tourist locations like Kumarakom, Varkala, Kovalam and Kozhikode. It would be a more scenic and faster travel option, said Kochi's deputy mayor B Bhadra. This would mean modernisation of boat jetties and more high-speed boats for local passengers and tourist services. Kerala Tourism is also setting up a R15-crore Tourism Board to anchor all these linkages.

The states tourism sector has been able to generate 1.2 million jobs, attract R1,000 crore investment, earn an income of R17,000 crore and earn foreign exchange of R3,797 crore as per 2010 figures.