Wednesday, July 17, 2013

With clipped wings, seaplanes are docked in no man’s land

Seaplane operations in Kerala, sought to take tourism to new heights, are in no man’s land. The project inaugurated a month ago with much fanfare is yet to get into regular operational mode.

The seaplane operations were halted after fishermen opposed the project, fearing disruption in fishing operations. Prominent organizations of fishermen have voiced concern over the possible loss of livelihood due to stoppage of fishing activity at sites where the seaplanes are scheduled to land and takeoff. They had also announced strong protest against the project and threatened to organize blockade around water dromes.

The government had responded to the fishermen’s concern by proposing a meeting with them to discuss the issue to remove their apprehensions. The meeting will be held on July 23, a top official of Tourism department told The Hindu.

The Bangalore-based Kairali aviation group, which announced its voyage with the inaugural flight at Kollam, is in no position to operate it now. The group with one amphibian aircraft had received only a temporary permit which has already expired. It needs fresh permit to continue operations. The group’s website meant to attract bookings for seaplane journey, has posted a note to wait for information, without giving any hint as to when the flight would resume.

A Tourism Department official said the license for operations was being processed for continuing the service. The amphibian aircraft is undergoing maintenance checks and would be ready for operations after the monsoon, he said. A few other operators too had evinced interest in the seaplane operations, he added.

The CITU-backed Matsya Thozhilai Federation, one of the fishermen’s organizations which has expressed objection to the seaplane project, wants a detailed study conducted on the services by a body of experts. The study conducted by Pawan Hans, the promoting airline organization, had not considered the fallouts in respect of fishermen’s livelihood, said T.Raghuvaran, district secretary of the Federation.

The fishermen’s contention is that the fishing operations will have to be halted in a large area where the flights are scheduled to land and take off from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They apprehend that it would curtail their area of activity, affecting livelihood.

The fishermen’s organizations are expected to stick to their stand to abandon the flight operations at fishing sites. It would be difficult for the government to get the support of the organizations, affiliated to political parties, given the impending Lok Sabha elections. The coastal belt has a strong community of fishermen who form a vote bank. The government too would not like to antagonize them at this moment. In the extreme scenario, the government will be compelled to operate the flights from dam sites and other water bodies were fishing operations are minimum.


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