Mehair launches Mumbai-Lonavla seaplane service

The first seaplane service connecting Mumbai and Lonavla, a hill station in the Western Ghats, took off from the Juhu aerodrome carrying the first batch of passengers on Monday. The plane will touch down on the waters of the Pawana dam in Lonavla in less than half an hour.

The service has been launched by the Maritime Energy Heli Air Services Pvt Ltd (Mehair) in collaboration with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

The flight from Mumbai to Lonavla, with nine passengers on board and a flying time of 25 minutes, will cost Rs2,999 per head one way - with the fare likely to be revised next month, according to Mehair.

The service will be extended to other tourism or pilgrim centres near water bodies in the state where air connectivity is lacking.

"This is the first step towards covering India with a seaplane network over the next three-five years. It will become a vital cog in the tourism initiative of the state as well as pilgrimage with connections to tourist and pilgrim centres," said Mehair co-founder and director Siddharth Verma.

The service has received tremendous response and the daily and weekly flights are fully booked till 15 September, he said.

"The service will boost tourism immensely, and seaplanes will turn vacation destinations into weekend destinations. Besides, the fatigue involved in reaching these destinations would also decrease drastically," said MTDC managing director Jagdish Patil.

Mehair uses Cessna 208 (nine-seater) and Cessna 206 (four-seater) amphibian aircraft to operate the services.

The company has two aircraft in service and is planning to acquire another Cessna 208 next month, followed by two more similar aircraft by the year-end.

Besides Pawana Dam, Mehair is planning services to Mula, Gangapur and Dhoom dams in Pune district, and a training centre for seaplane pilots to meet the requirements of its fleet.

Booking for other locations will begin in September.

Mehair plans to connect Aamby Valley - a luxurious township near Lonavla - Mula Dam which will be close to the religious centres of Shirdi, Meherabad and Shani Shinglapur and to the Gangapur Dam near the city of Nashik.

The industrial sites of Chakan and Talegaon will be approachable from the Bhama Ashkhed dam while travellers to the picturesque hill stations of Panchgani and Mahableshwar and the town of Wai, would be landing and taking off from the Dhom dam on the Krishna river near Wai. Apart from Nashik, most of these places have no air connectivity.

The MTDC is also collaborating with the irrigation ministry to identify various lakes, rivers and around 50 dams, as well as other big and small water bodies in remote areas of the state to be connected by seaplanes.

Mehair is planning to expand to coastal areas and landlocked states with lakes, rivers, backwaters or dams. Seaplanes require either a 1-km-long airstrip or a water body which is a km long and at least 10 feet deep.

The seaplanes will fly between 700-3,500 feet, thus giving a spectacular view of the land below.

Mehair pioneered the launch of seaplanes in India three years back in Andaman and Nicobar Islands where the service was being used by tourists, locals as well as the administration for connecting various island-destinations with the capital city of Port Blair. The company will also be launching similar services in Goa, too.