Seaplane to return to the Maldives month after operations begin, service temporarily suspended

Less than a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the seaplane service from the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad to Kevadia, the service has been
By Neha LM Tripathi, Mumbai
UPDATED ON NOV 28, 2020 12:05 AM IST
Seaplane services had to be suspended for two days in the first week of its operations itself. It did not operate on November 5 and 6 due to maintenance issue.(HT PHOTO)

Less than a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the seaplane service from the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad to Kevadia, the service has been temporarily suspended due to maintenance issues in the seaplane.

The aircraft — a 19-seater Twin Otter 300 — will be sent back to the Maldives on Saturday as it is the property of a Maldivian company, said sources in the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA).

Launched on October 31, the seaplane service between the Sabarmati riverfront and Kevadia was aimed at boosting tourism to the Statue of Unity. It is the first seaplane to operate under the government’s Udey Desh ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN) project.

The service is being operated by Spice Shuttle, a fully-owned subsidiary of SpiceJet, which wet-leased the seaplane from Maldives Island Aviation Services (MIAS). MIAS is owned by the government of Maldives, making both the aircraft and its crew the property of a foreign entity.

A spokesperson for SpiceJet confirmed the seaplane service has been suspended. “Seaplane operation has been temporarily suspended due to mandatory aircraft maintenance. Since the maintenance facility (dry and wet dock) is still under construction at Ahmedabad, the aircraft has to be sent to our lessor’s facility at Maldives. The operation will resume once the aircraft is back. The maintenance facility at Ahmedabad should be ready soon which would ensure that future maintenance is done here itself.” the spokesperson said.

The airline further clarified that the maintenance had been planned beforehand although seaplane services had to be suspended for two days in the first week of operation, due to maintenance issues. “We didn’t take any bookings beyond November 27 as this was pre-planned,” said the spokesperson.

Sources in MoCA said the Maldivian aircraft may be replaced. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) did not comment on the matter.

Aviation safety consultant captain Mohan Ranganathan said, “No aircraft goes for maintenance within one month of flying, which means that they did not get the paperwork done as required.”

Raising questions about whether due process was followed while acquiring clearances for the service, he further said, “It is obvious that the facility was initially inaugurated for publicity. While giving all the permits to an airline, the authority has to ensure that the company is financially viable and that crew and maintenance staff is available. Unless this is confirmed in writing by the airline, approvals are not given. This implies that the aircraft did not have a proper certificate of airworthiness (CofA).”

SpiceJet has been conducting seaplane trials in India since 2017. While under the first phase, trials were conducted in Nagpur and Guwahati, the second phase involved trials held at Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty.

The airline had earlier said it had secured 18 seaplane routes under UDAN, including services between Ahmedabad and Kevadia; Agatti and Minicoy; and Agatti and Kavaratti.

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