Kerala Tourism Thursday received a shot in the arm as the first seaplane which will connect the state's most popular backwater destinations arrived at the Kochi airport to a ceremonial welcome, an official said.
Minister for Tourism A.P. Anil Kumar, accompanied by State Planning Board Vice Chairman K.M. Chandrasekhar and Tourism Secretary Suman Billa, formally received the aircraft as it touched down at the international airport here on its maiden flight to Kerala.
The six-seater Cessna 206 H amphibian aircraft, capable of flying five hours at a stretch was welcomed at the airport's aircraft maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) hanger with a water salute by two tankers of the airport fire force.
The aircraft was flown in by Captain Michael Fabry, a Belgian national, who has about 3,500 hours of flying experience.
Speaking to reporters, Kumar described the introduction of the seaplane as a big boost to the fast growing tourism sector and said the service would be formally inaugurated by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy at Ashtamudi lake in Kollam district on June 2, when he will be on board the aircraft.
Chandrasekhar said the introduction of the seaplane in Kerala marks a new chapter in the country's civil aviation sector and it will soon encourage other coastal states to follow suit.
Billa said the seaplane operation is a turning point for tourism promotion activities.
"The service will connect four airports of Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Calicut and Mangalore as base stations and will connect key backwater tourism destinations of Ashtamudi in Kollam, Punnamada in Alappuzha and Bekal in Kasaragod districts," the official said.
Bengaluru-based Kairali Aviation will run the maiden service of the seaplane project which is based on a Zero Subsidy - Open Sky Policy. The seaplanes will fly roughly 6,500 feet above ground providing panoramic views of the lush green Kerala landscape.
Besides Kairali Aviation, Kerala Tourism has shortlisted four other companies for operating the seaplane services.
"Once the other agencies begin operations, it will give ample scope for competition in this sector. We expect it to be a very profitable activity, going by the growing number of domestic and overseas tourists reaching the state every year," said Billa.