India's seaplane service struggles to stay airborne

Launched by PM Modi, India's 'first-ever' seaplane service struggles to stay airborne

Airport Authority of India refuses RTI inquiry by DH on feasibility report as well as expenses incurred in launching the scheme

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to his supporters after he arrived from Kevadia via India’s first seaplane, at Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. Credit: PTI Photo

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has denied sharing report of feasibility test for seaplane service between Ahmedabad and Kevadia, the seat of the Statue of Unity, as well as expenses incurred in launching the project on the ground that revealing such information would "directly affect strategy and economic interest of the state" as well as "commercial confidence" in the state.

On October 31, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the seaplane service while the state was in the middle of a campaign for Assembly bypolls which the BJP swept eventually. However, since the launch, the service has remained grounded for most of the days and as per reports it flew barely 25 days. During the launch, it was hailed as the country's first ever seaplane service.

Responding to an application filed under Right to Information Act (RTI) by DH, the AAI denied sharing information related to total expenses that the government incurred in launching it. The RTI reply stated, "The project is still under development. The total expense can only be provided on completion. The capital expenditure for this project is being borne by Govt of India under the UDAN scheme."

The authority also refused to share the feasibility test report. It said that the test was conducted but "The deveopment of these Water Aerodrom is still underway. Any information regarding this, shared at this stagge would directly affect strategy/and economic interest of the State."

It further added, "The information sought would also affect commercial confidence, disclosure of which may harm the state interest, thereby larger public interest. Hence, the information sought cann't be disclosed under section 8 (A) (A) and (D) of the Right to Inforomation Act, 2005."

Meanwhile, the seaplane project, jointly started by state and central government along with private airline SpiceJet, has come under severe criticism for its irregular service. It is being said that the project was launched in a hurry in view of the local polls. "If you look at closely, most of such projects including Ro-Ro service between Bhavnagar and Surat failed. I think the state government should focus on basic amenties such as drinking water, education and health which are the need of the hour for a state battling with coronavirus cases," said Congress spokesperon Manish Doshi.

When contacted, SpiceJet spokesperson said, "Bookings for SpiceShuttle’s seaplane service between Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Riverfront and Kevadia’s Statue of Unity are now open. The service will resume from December 30, 2020." This comes after a gap of nearly a month when the service was not available. 

The airline reponded that "Seaplane operation had been temporarily suspended due to mandatory aircraft maintenance. Since the maintenance facility (dry and wet dock) was under construction at Ahmedabad, the aircraft had to be sent to our lessor’s facility at Maldives. The maintenance facility at Ahmedabad should be ready soon which would ensure that future maintenance is done here itself."