Kerala seaplane service takes off

Kerala seaplane service takes off

Kerala’s first seaplane did beat a weather threat on its maiden flight from Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam, on Sunday. The state tourism department officials are, however, also watching out for trouble from other quarters.

Fishermen in the Kollam and Alappuzha regions who have been claiming that the seaplane services would hit their livelihood on Sunday upped their tone of dissent even as Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who inaugurated the maiden flight, maintained that their concerns would be addressed.

Protesting fishermen affiliated to two unions arrived on boats at the venue ahead of the six-seater Cessna 206 Amphibian aircraft’s inaugural flight to Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha.  The seaplane service, operated by Bangalore-based Kairali Aviation, had been set for a rough start ever since concerns were raised over its potential impact on the water wealth and the livelihood of fishermen and clam collectors who work along the lakes.

Chandy has assured the fishermen that their issues would be addressed after a three-month “experimental” period. The protests on Sunday, however, point to possibilities of a bumpy start to the service.

T J Anjalose, state president of the Matsya Thozhilali Federation (AITUC), said the union would not allow the project to take off. He also dismissed the contention that the seaplane, which requires a 1-km radius on the lake for take-offs and landings, only causes minimal damage. “Those are figures from the project report done by a helicopter company. They are unacceptable. Further, a 1-km radius translates to acres of lake stretches,” he said.

Minister for Tourism A P Anil Kumar, who has maintained that the project was initiated on an experimental basis, hoped that the seaplane would soar past the clouds of doubt. Kumar told Deccan Herald that the Chandy’s assurance was a step in the right direction. “We are still in talks. An effort is underway to convince protesters that the seaplane service will not hit their livelihood,” the minister said.

The government said the seaplanes would be operated during daytime for seven hours only. Alternative locations have also been lined up for refuelling and maintenance of the aircraft.  In Vembanad in Alappuzha, fishermen gathered around the lake to protest the commencement of the seaplane service.

Anjalose said  the project was set to hit the livelihood of about 10,000 people. “There’s no compromise. We can’t play with the lives of people and tamper with the water wealth in the region. It just takes four or five similar projects to wipe off lakes in the state,” he said.

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