The government on Wednesday awarded 325 routes to airlines as well as helicopter operators under its regional connectivity scheme (RCS) with an emphasis on enhancing flight services to hilly and remote areas, including Kargil.
A total of 56 new airports and helipads are being connected to 36 existing ones. The routes have been awarded to 15 airlines and helicopter operators after the bidding process for second round of RCS, also known as UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik), which aims to take flying to the masses. These include major domestic players such as SpiceJet, IndiGo, Jet Airways and Air India subsidiary Alliance Air.
The government provides viability gap funding or subsidy for 50 per cent of the seats set aside for being offered at discounted rates by airlines and all seats up to 13 passenger seats for helicopters. Of the total 56 new airports and helipads, the latter account for 31, i.e., nearly 70 per cent.
With the emphasis strongly on enhancing connectivity to remote and hilly terrain in the northeast and hill states, 40
per cent of the total routes awarded today at 129. The government has aimed to connect 41 airports and helipads in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Uttarakhand.
“Since independence we had 75 airports in connected by scheduled airlines. UDAN 1 and 2 have added around 80 airports in the country. UDAN 2 has also addressed the problem of (poor air connectivity) to difficult areas,” Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said at a media briefing.
He said that it was encouraging to see that many participants sought no subsidy.
“This tells us that the scheme is getting the desired result and that it will not require any subsidy after some time and is moving towards self-sustainability,” Raju added.
SpiceJet and IndiGo have not sought VGF for some of the routes awarded to them, a senior ministry official said. Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey illustrated how small cities will enjoy improved flight services.
“For the first time Kargil will have connectivity. Darbhanga is going to be connected to Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. Hubli is going to be connected to nine other cities in the country. “Kannur in Kerala is going to be connected to eight cities. There will be flights from Pakyong in Sikkim to Delhi, Guwahati and Kolkata. Allahabad is getting connected to 12 cities in the country,” Choubey said.
Junior minister Jayant Sinha said that UDAN will add 4-5 per cent to the total passenger trips in the country.
“There were a total 117 million passenger trips in 2017. The number of seats being added because of UDAN 1 and 2 is 50 lakhs. This year we will fly 120-130 million passenger trips. So, if you look at the seats we have added (under UDAN) it is 3-4 per cent of the total. But since these are vitally important because they are bring connectivity to a large number of remote areas,” Sinha said.
In order to fund the subsidy, Airports Authority of India will also be providing partial contribution from its dividend share, in addition to the levy of Rs 5000 per flight being imposed on non-RCS operations.
AAI has given Rs 200 crore for RCS in the current fiscal, and is likely to contribute Rs 500 crore in the next fiscal. The second round of RCS will need VGF of Rs 620 crore, while the first round required Rs 213 crore.