Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent ride on a single engine sea plane from Sabarmati in Ahmedabad to Dharoi Dam in Mehsana of Gujarat, during the Gujarat Assembly polls, might just have given a big boost to the prospect of sea planes in the country. Potential sea plane operators such as SpiceJet and Zoom Air are betting big on West Bengal to make it a successful venture. Modi broke his safety protocol by choosing to ride a single engine sea plane instead of a double or multiple engine air craft, while campaigning for the polls. Sea planes are an advantage and a viable option for the Indian aviation industry since it doesn’t require the construction airports. Although Modi gave a push to this possibility by boarding his sea plane from the Sabarmati river, Zoom Air owner, Koustav M Dhar feels the feasibility of a water runway lies more on the river Hoogly.
The calmness of the Hooghly river and its 260 kilometres long stretch from Farakka in Murshidabad district up to the Bay of Bengal in the south 24 parganas district can be used as ideal runway for sea planes. This can provide connectivity to places of tourist interest such as the Sunderbans, Gangasagar and Murshidabad, where easy access is still an issue, feels Ajay Singh, chairman and managing director, Spice Jet as well as Zoom Air’s Dhar.
While West Bengal has an eye on tourism for economic growth, sea planes can make a huge value addition in the entire value chain. Not only providing connectivity, but sea planes can be a product of added attraction to generate more tourists as well. State tourism minister Gautam Dev said tourists foot fall in the state has grown at a CAGR of 26.5% between 2011 and 2016 against a CAGR of 14.5% between 2001 and 2010. 500,000 jobs have been generated from this sector between FY11 and FY16 and this has happened since the state laid emphasis in creating tourism infrastructure.
While SpiceJet’s Singh said he was keen to make West Bengal the hub of sea planes and that manufacturing sea planes from the state was of immense opportunity during the recently-concluded Bengal Global Business Summit, Zoom Air’s Dhar, who is in a spree of providing air connectivity between Delhi, Jabalpur, Kolkata, Bagdogra and various destinations of Northeast with his fleet of five 50-seater Bombardier CRJ200/700 LR aircrafts, (two more of such aircrafts to be added shortly), said he would look into the issues of regulatory framework.
Although SpiceJet and Setouchi Holdings of Japan have been working closely for the last eight months to explore opportunities for small 10- and 14-seater sea planes, operating such planes doesn’t come under the regulatory framework of the Air traffic Control (ATC) at present. The Centre would have to create regulations for that, Dhar said, adding there were attempts to fly sea planes in Goa and Kerala earlier but those were not successful for choppy waters.