Seaplanes Lift Mumbai’s Jetset Above the Congestion
Indian charter operator Maritime Energy Heli Air Services (Mehair) is launching a new seaplane operation to connect the center of the country’s commercial capital Mumbai with the affluent Aamby Valley area. The charter flights, operated with four-seat Cessna 206 amphibians, started last month and early advance bookings have convinced the company to add a nine-seat Cessna 208 aircraft by the end of May.
Mehair is already operating seaplane services in the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal. The Mumbai-area operation will be the first seaplane service for the Indian mainland.
Aamby Valley is a private community dotted with high-end villas, a convention center and various leisure facilities. Mehair, which has so far invested around $3.2 million in the new service, expects its passengers to include wealthy business people and tourists. “We’re in an untouched market and investors are excited about it,” Mehair co-founder Siddharth Verma told AIN. Available seats have been sold out for a month even before bookings officially open. Verma said four trips per a day will be enough to breakeven.
In addition to flying to the Aamby Valley, the Cessnas will also provide a service connecting five other destinations around Mumbai, including a seven-minute hop from between the north and south sides of the sprawling city. During April, this service will be offered at an introductory rate of just $20, saving passengers what can be a 90-minute drive through the worst of the rush hour.
Mehair has also signed a firm agreement with the southern Indian state of Goa to introduce seaplane services there in support of the tourist industry. The operation there, for which a service launch date has yet to be confirmed, will mainly carry foreign tourists to various resort hotels along the coast.
Plans to launch similar seaplane services in the southern state of Kerala in July 2013 ran aground in the face of opponents who argued that the flights would disrupt the local fishing industry. Verma told AIN that Mehair has enjoyed the full support of the Maharashtra state government (including Mumbai), including permission to install the required floating docks.
Going forward, Verma said he would like to emulate successful seaplane operations in the Maldives islands in the Indian Ocean, which currently claims the largest amphibian fleet in the world. He believes this model can be replicated to introduce services around India’s 6,000-plus mile coastline. Over the next five years, the company intends to add 25 more aircraft to its fleet and it is already considering the larger Viking Twin Otter aircraft, which can carry 19 passengers.
Mehair had to get multiple approvals to launch the seaplane services around Mumbai, including sign-offs from the Indian coast guard, the navy, police, airport authority, environmental officials and the city’s port authority. The Cessna floatplanes need a body of water 2,650 feet long and with clearance from the land on both sides of 164 feet, as well as a minimum water depth of 10 feet.