The government of India plans to set up four water aerodromes in Andaman & Nicobar Islands this year, as it looks to develop the union territory as a tourist destination that can compete with the likes of Maldives and Mauritius.
Over 62,000 Indians travelled to the Maldives in the six months up to December 2020, making India the biggest source of tourists for the island nation. Mauritius, another Indian Ocean island, used to get 1.5 million tourists from India every year before COVID-19 hit.
"We recently sent a team from Andaman & Nicobar to the Maldives so that the Union Territory can build similar capacities, and ensure that the water aerodrome projects will be implemented successfully," Usha Padhee, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, told Moneycontrol in a recent interaction.
"By the end of this calendar year, we should have the water aerodromes in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. We have identified four places for these water aerodromes," Padhee added.
The four locations for the upcoming water aerodromes are Havelock Island, Long Island, Port Blair and Neil Island. These aerodromes will have seaplanes connecting these four destinations to cities in southern India.
Apart from Andaman & Nicobar Islands, the government has similar plans for Lakshawadeep too. "Both archipelagoes have similar conditions and seaplane operations will give a boost to tourism and thus the local economies, and at the same time ensuring that the ecology is not disturbed," said Padhee.
This is not the first time that Andaman & Nicobar Islands will see seaplane operations. In fact, India's first seaplane took from the islands in 2020. But the pilot project didn't last long.
Last year in October, SpiceJet began seaplane operations in Ahmedabad and the Statue of Unity. While the service had to be suspended soon, owing to aircraft maintenance troubles, the airline now plans to acquire its own seaplanes, instead of leasing them.
In February, SpiceJet Chairman and Managing Director Ajay Singh mentioned the company will also plan for seaplane operations in Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Overall, the government plans to develop 14 more aerodromes, under the UDAN scheme to promote regional air connectivity. Some of the proposed routes are Delhi-Jaipur, Delhi-Udaipur, Delhi-Jodhpur and Delhi-Badrinath.
"We want to also focus on hilly regions such as the North-East, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh," Padhee said, about the government's focus to improve air connectivity in regions where road travel can be a time-taking affair.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation is expected to soon start a "special round of bidding." This 4.1 round of UDAN will include routes that were otherwise cancelled in the earlier rounds.
The new round will also have routes that will be operated by helicopters or involve water aerodromes.
"We will give airlines a lot of operational flexibility. So if you have a 3-seater, 4-seater, 20 seater aircraft, or if you want to operate as a non-scheduled operator, this will be allowed. We will explore if this model will help airlines with small aircraft. If it works out, it will mark a new chapter for UDAN," says Padhee.