The state of Kerala in Southwest India has invested $2.2 million in a seaplane operation to promote major destinations located near its 24 lakes and water bodies known for backwater tourism and houseboats. Kerala Tourism Infrastructure (KTIL), the nodal agency for the project, awaits a Directorate General of Civil Aviation no-objection certificate (NOC), and plans a launch in mid-May.
Of six operators that have shown interest, Kerala Seaplanes and Pinnacle Air, offering a mix of Twin Otters, Cessna Caravans and Cessna 206s, stand ready to start operations once they complete trial flights. As an incentive, the state has waived parking and landing charges for a year for those registered before January 31.
The business model does not include a permanently constructed terminal. KTIL is building five marked “waterdromes”–one kilometer by 250 meters wide–with houseboats and jetties for terminals so it can move the facilities to other bodies of water as the need arises.
“Training of the state police [to serve as an airport security group] is [under way],” KTIL managing director Anil Kumar told AIN. “We have almost completed fitting baggage scanners and security formalities. Since we have an in-principle approval from the ministry of civil aviation, we do not foresee any delay in the NOC.”
Kerala Seaplane Services, which runs a training academy in Hyderabad called Wings Aviation, reports readiness to start trials. Its fleet consists of a Cessna 206 Stationair and Caravan; it expects delivery of a new 18-seat Twin Otter Series 400 from Canada’s Viking Air by August. Because in India a scheduled license comes at a high cost and after numerous formalities, Kerala Seaplane Services plans to operate technically under a non-scheduled certificate. “My plan is to run a scheduled-non-scheduled flight,” said managing director Umesh Kamath. “Since we cannot publish a timetable, those flying will know our timings. Cochin, Trivandrum and Calicut will be used to fly to the five waterdromes.”
Seaplane operations show particular promise in rural India due to the costs associated with building airports and runways. Consequently, Viking Air considers the subcontinent a prime market for its new Twin Otter Series 400. A Viking spokesperson noted the success of such operations in the Maldives, where some 40 seaplanes, including three new Twin Otters, flourish in an environment even harsher than that found in Kerala. “Refueling will be done only at airports,” said Kumar. “And, unlike Maldives, where the seawater plays havoc with engines, Kerala has the advantage of fresh-water lakes and calmer waters.”