The seaplane service from Ahmedabad to Kevadia launched in October last year has been suspended for the third time as it has gone for maintenance to its home country Maldives. Stakeholders at the three-day annual convention of Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI), to conclude Sunday at the Statue of Unity (SOU) in Kevadia with 400 participants, were not able to experience the flight. Officials organising the conference said delegates, who were looking forward to taking a seaplane ride during their visit had begun enquiries about the service much before their arrival. The service, however, has been suspended since February 2 when the seaplane flew to Male where it is registered with Maldivian Aero as 8QISC, for regular maintenance. It was expected to return to Ahmedabad on February 10.
This is the second time that the aircraft has flown to the Maldives for over 10 days to undergo required checks after December when it spent the entire month in Maldives.
An official of SoU who did not want to be quoted said, “There is a whole delegation of tourism stakeholders in Kevadia and despite assurance that the seaplane will arrive on February 10, it has not come back. It has raised many questions about the suspension. This would have been an ideal time to promote the seaplane as a part of the tourist attractions in Kevadia.” SpiceJet, which is operating the service on a wet-lease from Maldivian Aero, told The Sunday Express in an email “The complete aircraft requires a maintenance check once a month.”
Though pilots and technicians accompany the Maldivian seaplane for its operations in Gujarat, “SpiceJet Technic” bears the cost of the maintenance, and the Maldivian Civil Aviation Authority inspects it, SpiceJet said. The airlines is now planning to recruit a team of maintenance experts who could work at the proposed seaplane hangar on the Sabarmati Riverfront. An official from the technical team of SpiceJet told The Sunday Express that the aviation company was looking at purchasing its own fleet of Twin Otter-300 series from the Canadian manufacturing company De Havilland.
The official said, “SpiceJet is committed to the service and it is something unique that India has not experienced before. There are some bottlenecks as of now due to the ongoing pandemic and we have had to make do with the wet-lease from the Maldives firm because the manufacturer De Havilland has temporarily suspended its manufacturing unit due to Covid-19. We are looking at expanding the seaplane services in the Andaman Islands apart from adding more flights to the Ahmedabad-Kevadia route. So, the plan is to purchase our own fleet of the aircraft, which will then be maintained and examined in India as we will also simultaneously have the infrastructure ready.” According to the official, the current seaplane — which rolled out in 1971 and is 50 years old — requires mandatory maintenance every 124 flying hours. “The rule book is that it has to undergo a thorough maintenance every 122-124 flying hours” ,the official said.
Officials of SpiceJet added the company was looking at seeking the Viability Gap Funding (VGF) scheme under UDAN project of the Civil Aviation, which would allow the company to make up for the losses that it currently faces running under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS).
Captain Ajay Chauhan, Director, Civil Aviation, and CEO of Gujarat State Aviation Infrastructure Company Ltd (GujSAIL) said, “This being a small aircraft operation, the per seat cost becomes high as it more like a private jet. At this hour of coming out of the pandemic, it is required to make the scheme self-sustainable, which would take a year or two. All efforts are on course to bring down fixed and variable costs to bare minimum, by looking at new choices of lease, equipment, schemes, VGF, stability, maintenance, etc.”
Under VGF, the state government pays the fare for nine seats on a one-way flight, that means 18 seats on a return journey, which makes it about 144 seats paid by the government per day. Under RCS, the government can pay only for nine seats on one flight per sector per day, Chauhan said.
A plan to launch the second service to connect Sabarmati Riverfront to Shatrunjay Dam for Palitana has been put on hold as of now.
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