Is it a bird; Is it a plane; No, It's a Seaplane!!!
The long-awaited seaplane, that has captured the imagination of people, mainly through James Bond movies, “Jal Hans”, India’s first commercial seaplane service has, ultimately, taken off in the serene, historic islands of Andaman & Nicobar, the subcontinent’s largest and most sought-after island tourism destination.
As the “Jal Hans” - Cessna 208 A, the amphibian fitted with the modern navigation facets of a large jet, took off from the Flying Club Hanger, behind the ITF ground, VIP road at Port Blair for the hip and happening Havelock Island and flew, in splendour, over the city of Port Blair and the Ross Island, the erstwhile “Paris of the East”, so did the new-fangled anticipations of the mostly uncared for local islanders, who thrive on tourism as the only viable source of living in this vulnerable island territory.
The Islands’ Lt. Governor, Lt. Gen. (Retd) Bhopinder Singh inaugurated the operations of the country’s first commercial seaplane service in the Islands on the 23rd January, 2011. He traveled with his better half on the maiden trip of “Jal Hans” to Havelock along with the Chief Secretary and senior officers of the Administration.
“It was an enthralling experience for the tourists, subsequently, to behold the awesome volcanic eruptions taking place in India’s lone active volcano at the Barren Island, while enjoying the first ride in the sea plane. The amphibian hovered around the Barren Island enabling the tourists to have a glimpse of the natural phenomenon.”
“The tourists, after returning, said that flying in the seaplane helped them to see the magnificent view of the various islands covered with green forests, the volcano and vast sea stretches around it. They were also enthralled with the information coming in from the pilot about various places they were flying past,” as reported by a local daily here.
The seaplane service which has come up as a joint venture between the public sector Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL) and A&N Administration will be used to connect Port Blair with Havelock, Diglipur and subsequently other parts of the islands including Southern groups of Islands.
View of the cockpit of “Jal Hans”
Until now, anyone wanting to travel between these islands had to use boats or a couple of PHHL helicopters, which were predominantly allocated for the commuting senior officials of the A & N Administration. It was awfully formidable for the general public of the islands to avail themselves of a seat on the choppers.
Markedly, now again one of the first passengers after inauguration of the “Jal Hans” was the BJP President, Nitin Gadkari, who enjoyed the seaplane flights from port Blair to various islands, while on tour here during the first week of this month.
BJP President, Nitin Gadkari with the “Jal Hans” at Port Blair
The “Jal Hans”, with a seating capacity of 2 (pilots) +8 (passengers), can fly passengers and their baggage to distances within 250 km in about an hour and can land on most calm waters. The launch of the commercial seaplane service promises to open up new vistas for tourists wanting to visit far flung islands that cannot have an airport.
To facilitate safe operations, facilities for ferrying of passengers from the shore to the pontoons, sanitization of the water-drome before take off and landing, a speed boat of 10 passenger capacity & one stand-by boat (inflatable Gemini boat) and one floating jetty (pontoon) each in the above locations have been placed.
Accordingly, Port Blair to Port Blair (joy ride), Port Blair to Barren Island aerial view and Port Blair to Havelock flight schedule has been released and the “Jal Hans” will make trips to Diglipur (North Andaman), as well.
Meanwhile, local grapevine has it that this is not the first seaplane in the country. It’s being asserted, of late, that “the first seaplane service was launched sometime during 1995 but unfortunately the seaplane during its return flight from Little Andaman plunged in the sea near Dundas Point - Kumhra-Kheti area while landing on 06-09-1995. The mishap cost life of a Senior Officer of SAI. The recovered and reconstructed seaplane (Cessna Caravan) now stands displayed in the Science Centre at Goodwill Estate, Port Blair.”
Seaplanes in front of the Ross Island during the Japanese reign
However, as I’ve written in my earlier posts, as well, seaplanes are not very new for the people of these historic Indian coral islands, at all. The Japanese occupation forces had used seaplanes in the Andamans for sometime during the Second World War, till the Allied Forces had introduced a full blockade of the islands. But the fact of the matter is that those were only used for the purpose of warfare and not for any civilian use.
As I’ve written here earlier too, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands have been witnessing steady increase in tourist numbers, as the rich tropical rain forests and waters of the Bay of Bengal are home to a vast species of plants, animals and marine life, most of which are endemic to these islands. Adventure tourism, including trekking, island camping, snorkeling and scuba diving are also becoming increasingly popular in the Andaman Islands. The launch of the commercial seaplane operations is expected to boost tourism infrastructure, manifold.
Much to the cheer of the tourists, a special introductory price is currently in effect for a period of 10 days from 9th February, 2011 in the Port Blair-Havelock-Port Blair sector, offering 50% discount on the operational cost fare drawn up earlier. A passenger can now avail a trip to Havelock at a meager fare of 2000 INR one way, which otherwise would have cost 4100 INR one way.
It’s a truly worthwhile experience to fly in the seaplane, as the amphibian offers large individual windows to each and every passenger that facilitates enchanting aerial view of the peerless scenic beauty of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands; particularly the kick of flying so low above the sea level, combined with the excitement of landing and taking off in the sea, makes it a marvelous experience.
So, when are you flying the brand new “Jal Hans” at Port Blair?