SpiceJet Ltd is starting a seaplane service connecting the city of Ahmedabad with Kevadia, site of the world’s tallest statue — a 182-metre tribute to the country’s first home minister, Vallabhbhai Patel.
Flights will start this Saturday, the 145th anniversary of Patel’s birth, from Sabarmati riverfront to near the so-called Statue of Unity. Fares for the 30-minute trip on a 15-seater Twin Otter 300 aircraft start as low as 1,500 rupees ($20) one-way thanks to a government program that subsidises tickets while offering free landing and parking to airlines.
“Infrastructural challenges have been a key deterrent for providing air connectivity to smaller towns and cities,” SpiceJet Chairman Ajay Singh said in a statement. “With the ability to land on a small water body, seaplanes are the perfect flying machines that can effectively connect the remotest parts of India into the mainstream aviation network without the high cost of building airports and runways.”
The Statue of Unity, about 200 kilometres to the southeast of Ahmedabad and also in the state of Gujarat, is double the height of the Statue of Liberty and about 40% taller than the Spring Temple Buddha in China. Mahatma Gandhi spent years in Ahmedabad during India’s struggle for independence.
Gujarat is also the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
SpiceJet, which almost shut down in 2014 after running out of money, has focussed on alternate sources of revenue, including cargo, regional flights with smaller planes and even retail. The airline said it has approvals for 18 seaplane routes. This is the first it will operate, through its subsidiary Spice Shuttle.