On Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s website www.narendramodi.in, the headline for one of the stories on December 12 gleamed, “PM Modi becomes first passenger of India’s first ever seaplane!” The article on the website referred to the prime minister’s seaplane ride from Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad to Dharoi dam in Mehsana on Tuesday as part of his campaign ahead of the second phase of polling in the Gujarat elections. The headline was later altered.
The claim that this was the first ever seaplane ride in India was reiterated from the official Bharatiya Janata Party Twitter account and by BJP leaders and functionaries.
Numerous television channels and publications played it up, heralding it as a bold and unique move that would revolutionise transportation by augmenting waterways travel within the country.
So, is this the first seaplane service to be envisioned in India? Alt News conducted a fact check and this is what we found. The first-ever commercial seaplane service was launched in India in 2010. Jal Hans, a service which was jointly operated by Pawan Hans, the public sector helicopter service provider and the administration of the Andaman & Nicobar islands was inaugurated in December that year. Praful Patel, who was minister for civil aviation at the time, confirmed this in a recent tweet. The Jal Hans service has now been stalled.
Another governmental initiative to launch seaplane service in India was by Kerala in June 2013, when a seaplane service promoted by Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Ltd was announced to connect the state’s waterways. The project however failed to commence owing to protests by the local fishing communities. Oomen Chandy, Kerala chief minister at that time, had tweeted about this.
The attempt to launch seaplane services in India was not limited to the government. Private players had announced seaplane services in 2011-’12. Seabird Seaplane Pvt Ltd was incorporated in 2012 and had announced services in Kerala and Lakshadweep. Another service provider, Mehair, started services in 2011 in the Andaman & Nicobar islands and later expanded to Maharashtra and Goa. These private service providers however ceased operations due to commercial non-viability and issues over governmental permissions.
There is a concerted effort to revive commercial seaplane travel in India despite the initial hiccup. Recently on December 9, Spicejet conducted sea trials at Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty where Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Ashok Gajapati Raju were present. Spicejet aims to procure 100 amphibian aircrafts in a bid to boost regional connectivity by exploring the transportation potential of waterways.
The same aircraft that was used by Gadkari was deployed for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ride from Ahmedabad to Mehsana as can be confirmed by the registration number N181KQ.
When Alt News checked the flight path of the aircraft, it was discovered that the plane had arrived at Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan, on December 3. In the last 90 days, the Quest Kodiak single engine aircraft had travelled across the globe from Greece to Saudi Arabia to New Zealand.
India has roughly 14,500 km of navigable waterways. Introducing seaplane travel is a right step in the direction of diversifying India’s transportation system. Prime Minister Modi’s seaplane ride with an eye on the Gujarat elections, however, was touted as the first ever in the country by his website and repeated by news outlets when that was clearly not the case, nor was Modi the first Indian to travel in a seaplane. This narrative was initially played up and then quietly retracted on Modi’s website.
Many in the media did not bother to fact-check this information. Though the prime minister’s website has changed the title, media houses have not issued a clarification.
This article first appeared on Alt News.