Bengaluru: Last-mile air connectivity could soon become a reality, with the first bunch of flights under the ‘Udan’ scheme set to get operational by next month.
The scheme – acronym for Ude Desh Ki Aam Naagrik (May the Common Man Be Able to Fly ) – was announced by the Centre last October to connect tier-two and tier-three towns to metros.
The Civil Aviation Ministry on Thursday has handed over licences to five operators who won the bid to operate on regional routes. The first towns to be connected will be Bhatinda and Shimla by April, while other small towns – from Kandla and Porbander to Salem, Bidar and Hosur – will be connected in a phased manner latest by September.
With people’s per capita income steadily rising the past few years, the aviation market in India has been soaring -- in 2016, the sector saw a whopping 26% growth in passenger traffic. It is to cash in on this demand that the Ministry decided to implement a long-pending recommendation of connecting regional tier 2 and 3 cities.
“A decade back flying was a rich mans prerogative and today the scenario is changed. A common man can afford air travel,” Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju.
Five airlines – Alliance Air, Air Odisha, TruJet, Spicejet, Air Deccan - will be a part of the regional connectivity model which is based on ‘viability gap funding'. Under this, 80% of the cost will be borne by the state government and the rest by the centre. The Centre as of now has allotted Rs 205 crore to start of the process.
"The RCS is a unique and innovative program designed by the government to connect unutilised and under-utilised airports in the country and bring them into the national aviation mainstream,” said Mr. Ajay Singh, CMD, SpiceJet.
The first flight under Udan will take off in April from Shimla to Delhi, operated by Alliance Air. About 43 under-served airports will start to see small-capacity commercial jets in the next six months. Routes like Mysore-Chennai, Agra-Jaipur, Kullu-Delhi, Nanded-Mumbai and many more have been chosen by the airlines.
The fare for a one-hour journey of about 500 km on a fixed-wing aircraft or a 30-minute journey on a helicopter is capped at Rs 2,500, with proportionate pricing for routes of different lengths and duration.
The Central government, in order to make operations on such routes financially viable, will provide a range of tax concessions.
The subsidy will continue for the next three years, while the Udan scheme will remain for next 10 years.
Many have welcomed the long-pending demand of regional air connectivity. Former Director General of Civil Aviation Kanu Gohain told News18 he hopes more private airlines would step forward to take advantage of this scheme.
“The government has set the ball rolling in aviation policy. The business model will be definitely not be lucrative, but will be viable. If there is no passenger traffic, there will be revenue from the cargo,” Gohain said.
Most airlines will deploy a turbo-prop aircraft on such routes – a 20 to 60-seater craft. Spicejet already has 70-seater Q400 planes which are apt for such routes. The Union cabinet on March 5 approved a Rs 4,500-crore plan to develop or upgrade 50 under-served or unserved airports and airstrips in the country.