A water landing is an amazing experience by any standards. As our blue and yellow Twin Otter landed in the clear blue waters of Male, the experience was even more thrilling because of the gentle bumps it made as it touched down on the Indian Ocean. Floatplanes first appeared during the Great war for naval use, but for the past several decades their prime use is as bush planes-mainly to connect islands or remote areas where building runways is not feasible. One super example of their use is in Maldives.
At Male's seaplane terminal, the planes bob up and down in the water, lined up like taxis, one behind the other to ferry tourists to the doorstep of their island resorts. The water landing strip for the planes is parallel to the brick and mortar runway for the regular aircraft. As we wait for our ride, I spot one with a white and black livery, standing out among the Neeli-peelis. It has Waldorf Astoria painted in stylish lettering. The US hotel chain has a resort in the Maldives and they have chartered this one, exclusively for their guests.
Adding to the charm of the seaplanes, are the jaunty crews of Trans Maldivian Airlines, one of the two major seaplane operators in Male. The pilots look slightly incongruous in white shirts, complete with wings and stripes, and blue three-quarter pants. Most captains fly barefoot, jumping gingerly out of the plane on to the jetty, to help passengers out after the landing.
Also, quite unlike traditional airline pilots, they help pull out bags from the cargo hold and seem to look less stressed. What's it like to fly a seaplane all day? We ask Capt Neil Robinson, who has just stepped off one. "Few obstructions, great flying,'' says the expat Captain who has been at it for over a decade. The flying is by VFR (visual flight rules), so typically his day begins at six in the morning and ends by sunset. With at least half a dozen landings a day, it seems by all counts a busy day.
Seaplanes are a great alternative to surface transport and Maldives is an excellent example of how the industry has developed. TMA has about 23 planes, all twin-engined lovely De Havilland Canada, Twin Otters. Its rival, Maldivian Air Taxi, is also roughly the same size, flies similar aircraft but dressed in striking red and white. Between the two, they are the largest seaplane operators in the world. Seaplanes are more efficient (though more expensive) than boats. They are certainly cheaper than helicopters that were used earlier.
Which brings me to the question of why we haven't used seaplanes in India? Our experiments in general aviation (non-airline) have for most part been primitive. I am sure there are entrepreneurs, who will soon spot the opportunity of our 7,500 km coastline (if we include the island territories). The STOL (short take off and landing) aircraft need little infrastructure and can be flown to rivers and large lakes with not too many hassles.
Sri Lankan Airlines re-discovered seaplanes recently. The airline has two 15-seaters on offer to fly from Kandy to the southern coast. The flights operate to lakes, lagoons and rivers on the island, cutting travel time to a sixth. Frequent fliers are allowed to redeem their miles on these. Not surprising that they are in huge demand.
So any suggestions for seaplane routes in our patch? Mumbai-Goa is a sure winner. I am sure there are dozens more.
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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 03:50:41 IST