Wednesday 8 November 2017

Indian airlines may procure amphibious aircrafts to improve last mile connectivity.

Beriev 50 seater amphibious aircraft

As the disposable income of India’s middle class rises, ambitions of first-time travelers are reaching sky heights. In 2016, India was the third largest aviation in the world with more than 100 million flyers. Flight tickets to Tier 1 cities in India are among the cheapest in the world. With the right market search, one could fly long distances in India at less cost than 3AC Indian Railways. Chennai – Mumbai flights can be booked at Rs. 1700 whereas the 24-hour journey in luxurious Humsafar Express costs Rs 1800.

With Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagarik scheme, travel to small cities by flights has now been capped at Rs 2,500. Indian airports are now unable to cope with the flying density. Mumbai Airstrip is one of the busiest in the world with a flight landing in every 50 seconds. Low-cost airlines are now eyeing to procure amphibious planes to improve last mile connectivity. With amphibious planes, major rivers and big dams can be converted into an airport. India’s all 640 districts and its small cities and tourist places may benefit with the move.

Low-cost airline Spice jet is in talks with Japan’s Setouchi Holdings to procure more than 100 Kodiak amphibious aircrafts. An amphibious aircraft can land on water, gravel or India’s national highways. Russian firm Beriev has made a similar offer to supply 50 seater amphibious aircrafts which are awaiting government clearance.

The manufacturers have also proposed adopting the 'Make in India' route to locally manufacture the seaplanes in collaboration with Indian manufacturers if the contract value allows them to do so. Meanwhile, India has agreed to a trial of a Japanese seaplane. The trial is scheduled to begin in Nagpur. Nagpur has grabbed international attention after Reliance – Dassault manufacturing facility with 100 million Euro in MIHAN aerospace manufacturing SEZ.

The list price of each aircraft stands around $4 million, which means the fleet of around 100 aircraft will cost around $400 million. SpiceJet is exploring to seek low-interest loans from Japan. Mehair was the industry first to start seaplane service in India. There were plans to run planes from Girgaon or Juhu, in Mumbai to the tourist hub of Lonavala. The plan never took off due to bureaucratic delays by government authorities in adopting new technologies. Kochi-based Sea Bird Seaplane Pvt Ltd that recently received the no-objection certificate (NOC) from DGCA, also plans to start operations with its two aircraft.

"We want to encourage seaplanes. A small nation like the Maldives has a fleet of 47 seaplanes but India, despite vast potential has none. I urge industrialists in the area to come to India. Here there is potential," Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Shipping and Surface Transport. 

India’s aviation market is expected to get 500 million frequent flyers by the year 2025. To meet excessive demands, India needs more than 200 smaller size airplanes in next 10 years. Not just UDAN subsidised passengers, amphibious airplanes may mean a big opportunity for luxury resorts.

- Chaitanya Kulkarni

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