By Quaid Najmi, Mumbai, Feb 23 IANS | 6 months ago

Commercial seaplane services will commence between Mumbai and Lonavala's Aamby Valley hill station from Feb 24, with the 100-km-long flight taking 25-28 minutes, or one-fourth of the time taken by road, an official said.


"Initially, one flight which will be operated daily by a four-seater aircraft and depending on the response, the services will be increased," Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) Managing Director Jagdish Patil told IANS.

The flights will be operated by Mumbai-based Maritime Energy Heli Air Services Pvt Ltd (MEHAIR) with a four-seater Cessna 206 Amphibian. A nine-seater Cessna 208 Amphibian will be deployed if the demand increases.

The test flights were completed in Dec 2013 when the amphibians smoothly landed and took off from the Aamby Valley Lake.

Later, MEHAIR plans to launch other routes, including Mumbai (Juhu) to Mula Dam which is close to the pilgrimage centres of Shirdi, Shani-Shingnapur and Trimbakeshwar in Ahmednagar district, and to Mahabaleshwar and other major destinations which have no air connectivity, the official said.

For this, the MTDC is collaborating with the irrigation ministry to identify various lakes, rivers and around 50 dams as well as other big and small water bodies for starting seaplane flights across the state.

On its part, the MEHAIR plans to expand to all coastal areas which have beaches and landlocked states with lakes, rivers or dams for amphibian flight operations.

The MTDC has plans to start a seaplane service linking the suburbs with south Mumbai - in a mere 5-10 minutes - but the proposal is awaiting central clearances.

A MEHAIR official said a seaplane is a fixed-wing aircraft capable of taking off or landing on water, without the need for an airstrip. Another category of amphibian aircraft can also take-off from and land at regular airfields.

Seaplanes require either a 1 km long airstrip or a water body which is a km long and at least 10 feet deep.

The seaplanes will fly at between 700-3,500 feet, thus giving a good view of the terrain below, while the pilots would be in shorts, to enable them wade in the water for anchoring the aircraft after landing.

Holding a non-scheduled operator's permit, MEHAIR has already acquired a hangar at the Juhu Airport from where it would operate the flights as daily charters.

Besides Mumbai, the only other seaplane service currently operational is in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for the past three years.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

(Posted on 23-02-2014)