Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sea Planes - Sea view

Sea plane operators in The Maldives face plenty of
unusual challenges writes Neelam Mathews

Even as India struggles to connect the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands for tourism with a lone wetleased seaplane operation, neighbour Maldives is finding innovative solutions for running and maintaining its fleet of over 50 Canadian de Havilland 19-passenger Short Takeoff and Landing DHC-6 Twin Otters.

The Maldives has 1190 islands, of which 200 are inhabited, with the largest seaplane fleet after Canada and Alaska.

Seaplane operations in the Maldives face many challenges. Flights have to be conducted during the day giving them limited flying time, changes in tides and swell can result in planes getting stuck at resorts, often, no brakes on the plane makes it difficult to taxi on water and with no simulators,  training has to be done in airplanes which is costly and time consuming.

Essentials for MRO are constant supply of electrical power; fresh water supply; storage and dispensing for aircraft refueling; the need for a maintenance hangar and dedicated dock for engine run-up; a professional AIM (Aircraft Inventory Management); an excellent software support system for controlling and monitoring all associated and involved maintenance processes and systems; and a skilled maintenance team ready to work in hostile environment.

“With lack of published runway and approach documents, we have a big job ahead of us when a new resort opens as we have to do the sat imagery on how to determine the approach….Monsoons create additional problems,” says Fredrik Groth, chief executive officer, Maldivian Air Taxi, the largest seaplane operator in the Maldives operating around 22 Twin Otters to 45 resorts.

During a peak day, every four minutes, a Maldivian Air Taxi takes off - 200 flights a day - with each plane carrying 400,000 passengers a year. The average Maldivian Air Taxi captain has flown over 5,000 hrs on the Twin- Otter with thorough experience and knowledge of each landing site in the Maldives, says Groth.

The company has also constructed platforms for landing near resorts with no aviation background, having to end up training and supporting resort staff.

Maintenance of the seaplanes in a salt water environment poses further challenges, adds Groth, as the extreme environment with the hot sun and monsoons causes severe structural damage and harsh landings lead to regular maintenance of floats.

With lack of procedures, operators have had to adapt procedures for maintenance.“Line maintenance is performed on floating aircraft and to check oil levels when the aircraft is moving, is a bit of a challenge,” adds Groth.

The seaplane, in addition, has to be washed everyday with sweet water as engines get corroded faster with salt water. “Fifty percent of the time, we don’t overhaul our engines, we just take new ones,” adds Groth. If an engine shuts down, the operator has an added cost and worry to find a resort to land and then send an engine by boat to replace it!

Every five years, the aircraft is torn down to the last bolt. For every 10,000 man hours, the paint is stripped, as is the fuselage. As the seaplane fleet gets older with very few 19-seater float planes increasingly getting difficult to replace with very few having been built over the last 20 years, MAT continues to rebuild their fleet every five years with new wiring, avionics and structure, so the aircraft are as new.

Worries have started to surface with ICAO relooking at airport security rules. In the Maldives, for instance, it would be highly impractical to introduce passenger and cargo screening at each resort.

“At this time, we are not expecting any major changes for operations in Maldives. We hope that ICAO will be practical and ensure that any changes they introduce will secure that seaplane development in new parts of the world is not hampered,” says a Maldivian civil authority official.

1 comment:

  1. Very true, Neelam. Sea plane operation in Maldives is in a dire state. It is an operation that needs to be looked very meticulously to ensure proper functionality of the operators.
    Amy from Skytours Maldives