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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Ahmedabad’s water hangar to improve seaplane services, allow local maintenance

With Seaplane operations in the state likely to be expanded on three more routes, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is constructing a water hangar at the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad to avoid disruption in operations due to maintenance.

Written by Avinash Nair , Aditi Raja | Ahmedabad/vadodara | Updated: December 5, 2020 2:32:45 pm
PM Narendra Modi had inaugurated the first seaplane service in the country (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

The state government plans to connect Sabarmati Riverfront to Dharoi dam for Ambaji, Shatrunjay Dam for Palitana, and Tapi with seaplane services under the 10-year ‘Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik’ or UDAN project of the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Currently, the seaplane service from Sabarmati Riverfront to Statue of Unity in Narmada district is suspended for 15 days, until December 15, as the amphibious aircraft has flown to its home country, the Maldives, for mandatory maintenance and servicing. The new water hangar, officials said, will allow the maintenance and servicing of the seaplane to be undertaken locally.

Explained: What is India’s first seaplane project and how will it function?

The SpiceJet, which has a three-year contract with the Gujarat government to operate the service between Ahmedabad and the three destinations — of which, the Statue of Unity route was inaugurated on October 31 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — confirmed that a water hangar is under construction at Sabarmati Riverfront.

“At this point in time, what we are looking at and what is under progress is the construction of a wet and dry dock and this will act as a temporary maintenance hangar for seaplanes and over a period of time we will see where a permanent hangar can be built,” SpiceJet told The Indian Express in response to an email query.

Since its launch on October 31, the seaplane service has been suspended for maintenance at least twice. On November 3, just three days after the launch, the plane was docked for two days at the Sabarmati riverfront for repairs. Its operation was suspended again on November 29 when the plane, registered under the ownership of Maldivian Aero, flew back to the Maldives for maintenance.

“These aircraft need regular maintenance, and in the absence of a dry and wet dock, this aircraft couldn’t be maintained properly in India. At SpiceJet, safety is the topmost priority. The aircraft has been flown to the Maldives for essential maintenance and our operations will resume on December 15 once the aircraft is back,” the airline’s spokesperson said.

Captain Ajay Chauhan, the Director of Aviation of Gujarat, said the AAI’s hangar that is coming up at Sabarmati Riverfront will be a “permanent” structure. “The hangar is being constructed by the Union Civil Aviation Ministry and Airports Authority of India. There will be underwater pillars and it will be an RCC structure that will allow an aircraft to land and be serviced. The current contract with SpiceJet is for three years and there could be more operators in the future. The overall period of the Udan scheme is of 10 years, so we are looking at it as a permanent structure.”

Chauhan said the Gujarat government has sought environmental clearance and received the Terms of Reference (TOR) from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) for Sabarmati, Kevadia and Palitana in September this year, but the work on the construction of the water aerodrome terminal at Shatrunjay Dam in Palitana is yet to commence. “It is up to SpiceJet to begin operations on the second route between Sabarmati Riverfront and Palitana. There is no impediment in the project due to pending environmental clearances. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic and fewer travellers, the operator is taking it slow… Once the pandemic is over, the work on the construction of the aerodrome on Shatrunjay Dam will commence,” Chauhan said.

The state government, sources said, has asked SpiceJet to bring in a younger seaplane as compared to the Twin Otter 300 that flew on the Ahmedabad-Kevadia route. The airline, however, has denied any plans to change the 49-year-old aircraft from the Maldives. “The aircraft had last undergone an overhaul and seat refurbishments on July 28, 2019. An overhaul of Twin Turboprop Pratt and Whitney PT6A-27 engine was done on October 8, 2019,” it said.

Asked if the SpiceJet was looking to convert the existing wet-lease agreement with Maldivian firm (under which the owner company provides the entire service, insurance, operations and maintenance as well as crew in lieu of a fee to SpiceJet) into a dry lease, the SpiceJet spokesperson said, “At this point in time, we are only looking for wet-lease as under it one gets a significant value addition in form of experienced crew and engineering team. As we gain experience, we will have our own crew and engineering team and will convert the wet-lease into a dry lease.”

Dry lease is an arrangement covering the hire of an aircraft for a certain period which does not include the provision of a flight crew.

Meanwhile, Gujarat State Aviation Infrastructure Company Ltd (GujSAIL) has invited bids for the supply, installation, testing and commissioning of rotating beacons on the water aerodrome at Sabarmati Riverfront and Statue of Unity. The last date for the bidding is December 15.

The tender states, the work for the installation of the beacons must be mandatorily completed “within a period of 30 days from the date of signing of contract”.

A GujSAIL official said, “Airport beacons are used to help pilots identify an airport or airstrip at night. They are operational from sunset to sunrise and during the twilight hours. Sometimes, they are turned on if the ceiling is less than 1,000 feet and/or the ground visibility is less than three statute miles (VFR minimums). The beacon has a vertical light distribution to make it effectively visible from the horizon. It could also have dimensions, rotations or flashlights. The colour of the light indicates the type of airport. For instance, white and green lights are flashed for civilian land airports, while white and yellow lights are for water airport. Helipads and military airbases have different beacon colours,” an official said.

With the seaplane operations expected to expand, beacon lights will help in landing and take-off from the two operational water aerodromes in non-daylight hours.

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