Talk of seaplanes, and for a majority of Indians, it’s like visualizing scenes from Western movies, particularly the iconic James Bond films. Yet, the mention of seaplane services in India often leads to blank expressions, given the lack of broader awareness about it.
However, with UDAN, a regional airport development program by the Government of India, and part of the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), aimed at upgrading connectivity to unserviced and under-serviced airports, the spread of seaplane services across the country is set to become a reality.
With a vast coastline stretching over 7,400 kilometres, hundreds of major dams, myriad lakes, rivers, and backwaters, India boasts the ideal geography for a flourishing seaplane industry. With both littoral and landlocked states blessed with ample bodies of water, seaplane services offer an immediate and convenient air connectivity option. Leading the charge is Maritime Energy Heli Air Services Pvt Ltd (MEHAIR), the pioneers of seaplane services in India since 2011. Armed with a visionary approach, the company is poised to harness this potential by reintroducing its seaplane services by year-end, featuring conventional seaplanes and introducing state-of-the-art electric and hybrid seaplanes from 2025 onward. These cutting-edge aircraft will epitomise the fusion of sustainability and economic viability, heralding a new era in aviation.
In an exclusive conversation with Raksha Anirveda, MEHAIR’s Director, Siddharth Verma, lucidly explained the company’s future roadmap.
A Dream Takes Flight
With over three decades of experience in the aviation industry, Siddharth had long harboured dreams of embarking on an entrepreneurial journey. “My entrepreneurial journey started by chance. A contract issued by the Andaman & Nicobar administration for a seaplane services provider caught my attention in 2010. Being an aviation enthusiast with a penchant for taking business risks, I quit my job of many years and followed this exciting lead to found MEHAIR. I took the chance and submitted a bid without thinking too much about the outcome,” said Siddharth.
In a move set to transform India’s aviation scene, MEHAIR has inked a comprehensive agreement with Delta Aerospace, Malaysia, covering procurement, domestic operations, distribution, and even assembly/manufacturing of amphibious aircraft within India
Elaborating further, Siddharth shared that the win of the Andaman tender set the stage for MEHAIR’s remarkable journey. For the next three years, as per the contract, MEHAIR successfully provided seaplane services in Andaman. Later, the company expanded its operations to Maharashtra as well.
Seamless Travel Across India
MEHAIR has demonstrated its ability to operate seaplane services in diverse Indian geographies, enabling seamless travel between cities and destinations that were virtually inaccessible by land infrastructure. The company has served destinations as varied as the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and locations across Maharashtra.
However, with the expiration of contract tenures and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, MEHAIR took a conscious step back as the renewal of contracts became uncertain. It was a time for reflection, survival, and strategic planning.
“Undeterred by the unexpected challenges, I knew that this phase was temporary and it was the time to think long-term and focus on the future roadmap,” Siddharth remarked with unwavering optimism.
Looking inward, Siddharth meticulously analysed the experiences in Andaman & Nicobar and Maharashtra, identifying areas for improvement to make MEHAIR’s seaplane services exemplary and ahead of any potential competition. Siddharth made a firm commitment to prioritise sustainable aviation practices by facilitating access to financial resources for the conversion of its upcoming fleet of aircraft into eco-friendly solutions.
MEHAIR’s Future Roadmap
Shifting its focus, MEHAIR is now rescheduling its services in India, beginning with Andaman & Nicobar and Goa in 2023-24 under the Government of India’s highly successful UDAN Scheme, and it will also expand its services in Gujarat early next year.
Continuing the conversation, Siddharth revealed that MEHAIR has signed an order for fifty electrically powered regional amphibious aircraft PHA-ZE 100 with Switzerland-based Jekta. The company has secured deposits for ten firm orders and options for 40 more. With this agreement, MEHAIR will be the first customer to receive the aircraft in Asia, with initial deliveries commencing in 2029. These aircraft, anticipated to accommodate 19 passengers in their baseline configuration, signify MEHAIR’s alignment with global trends towards sustainable aviation.
Leading the Green Aviation Revolution
Additionally, MEHAIR has entered into a strategic memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Kingdom-based Monte Aircraft Leasing Ltd (MONTE), a market-leading energy transition aircraft lessor. This MoU marks a significant milestone in MEHAIR’s commitment to sustainable aviation practices. The exclusive retrofitting partner will undertake various tasks, including the integration of a decarbonised propulsion system, thereby transforming these aircraft into low-emission models, Siddharth revealed.
The Shift Towards ‘Last Mile’ Connectivity
In a move set to transform India’s aviation scene, MEHAIR has inked a comprehensive agreement with Delta Aerospace, Malaysia, covering procurement, domestic operations, distribution, and even assembly/manufacturing of amphibious aircraft within India. This partnership aligns seamlessly with the Indian government’s ambitious ‘last mile’ air connectivity and remote area tourism initiatives under the UDAN scheme. As the number of small and medium-sized aircraft is expected to soar in Indian skies, there is a growing concern about their environmental impact. Siddharth Verma emphasised MEHAIR’s commitment to imbuing UDAN flights with sustainability, marking a pivotal moment in India’s aviation evolution.
MEHAIR is all set to bid for up to 50 airport-to-airport routes in the current UDAN Round 5.2, an endeavour that will see the introduction of six more land planes to its fleet by mid-2024. This strategic move highlights MEHAIR’s commitment to transitioning to sustainable aviation practices.
MEHAIR is rapidly emerging as a key player in the realm of amphibious air travel. Harnessing India’s vast network of water bodies, the modern fleet of seaplanes being inducted by MEHAIR promises convenient and efficient transportation solutions, connecting remote destinations with urban hubs
With a vision firmly fixed on revolutionising regional connectivity and tourism, MEHAIR is rapidly emerging as a key player in the realm of amphibious air travel. Harnessing India’s vast network of water bodies, the modern fleet of seaplanes being inducted by MEHAIR promises convenient and efficient transportation solutions, connecting remote destinations with urban hubs. Committed to safety, sustainability, and customer satisfaction, MEHAIR’s innovative approach to aviation is reshaping how people experience the breathtaking beauty and rich diversity of India’s landscapes and culture.
A Decisive Move Towards Decarbonisation
As the conversation drew to a close, Siddharth turned the spotlight on decarbonisation. He underscored that decarbonisation is firmly entrenched as a core mission of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India. MEHAIR is poised to lead this transformative revolution, thanks to its collaboration with Jekta and MONTE. This partnership represents a pivotal step in achieving MEHAIR’s vision of environmentally responsible aviation.
“We know the Jekta team’s heritage for producing efficient amphibious aircraft, and having been introduced to its electrically powered PHA-ZE 100, we made a decisive move to acquire these aircraft early, showing our deep commitment towards greener technology,” Siddharth stated. “We want to be one of the first operators in the world to update its fleet with a zero-emissions aircraft to support regional flights between land and water infrastructure. Our strategic memorandum of understanding with MONTE, the market-leading energy transition aircraft lessor, marks a significant milestone. The exclusive retrofitting partner that will be engaged in this endeavour will undertake various tasks, including the integration of a decarbonised propulsion system, thereby transforming these aircraft into low-emission models,” concluded Siddharth.
–The writer is a senior journalist. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda