Around 40 per cent, or 129, of the 325 air routes awarded under the second phase of the regional connectivity scheme were for Northeastern and hill states, underscoring the Centre’s emphasis on enhancing air connectivity to the remote terrains.
These include strategic airports such as Kargil in Jammu & Kashmir, Pakyong in Sikkim, and Tezu in Arunachal Pradesh, where civilian air connectivity will be provided for the first time. Further, the phase-II of the government’s flagship scheme has also seen routes being served by helicopters apart from fixed-wing aircraft. In fact, nearly 70 per cent – or 31 out of 56 – new destinations to be connected via air transport will be served by helipads.
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. 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). These include major domestic players such as SpiceJet, IndiGo, Jet Airways and Air India subsidiary Alliance Air.
Seeing poor response from fixed-wing operators in the first phase of the scheme for airports in difficult terrains, the government tweaked the guidelines of the project to allow helicopters to fly in to these regions. In this round, four helicopter operators — Heligo Charters, Heritage Aviation, Pawan Hans, and Skyone Airways — will ferry passengers on these routes.
“Since independence we had 75 airports in connected by scheduled airlines. UDAN-I and II 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 on Wednesday, while briefing the media. Raju also informed that 20 of the total 141 proposals received were with bids for zero viability gap funding sought by airlines.
“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. According to a senior civil aviation ministry official, budget carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet bid for certain routes not seeking any subsidy.
Minister of State for Civil Aviation 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 I and II is 50 lakh. 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.
‘AAI to partially fund RCS’
New Delhi: Airlines pay a regional connectivity levy of Rs 5,000 per flight on the routes not operated under UDAN.
Civil aviation secretary R N Choubey said that to fund the scheme, the levy will not be increased, but funds will be diverted from the Airports Authority of India’s (AAI) dividend payable to the Centre, to the regional connectivity fund. For 2017-18, AAI has contributed a sum of Rs 200 crore to the fund, and the civil aviation ministry expects to receive a sum of Rs 500 crore in the upcoming financial year, subject to approval from the finance ministry.
The subsidy cost for the second round of UDAN will be Rs 620 crore, compared with the first round that required Rs 213 crore. ENS