NEW DELHI: The government has eased several norms for its flagship regional flying scheme UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik) to attract more airlines and helicopter operators to participate in the regional connectivity scheme (RCS). The civil aviation ministry made the announcements on Thursday when it initiated the process for second round of bidding for the inexpensive regional connectivity scheme. Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajpathi Raju said the government has kept special focus on priority areas in the second round of bidding. The winners of the second round of bidding are likely to be announced by November 30.
The relaxations include dilution of exclusivity clause which mandated that only one airline flies on one route in the first three years. Now, selected airline operator of a particular route may issue no-objection certificate to other airlines who want to operate on the selected RCS route. The ministry has also diluted norms that restricted two airports in close proximity with each other to participate in the bidding. The modified norms allow routes with a stage length less than 150 km for operations through fixed wing aircraft. “This, the ministry believes, would enhance connectivity and ease the formation of networks under the scheme,” Raju said.
The ministry has also increased viability gap funding for helicopter operators and smaller aircrafts. However, the special concession to helicopter operators and smaller aircrafts would apply only in priority areas. “10% of the estimated annual inflow in the regional connectivity fund has been earmarked for operations through choppers,” Raju said. Another concession for airlines which operate in priority areas is that the maximum number of flights with VGF has been increased to 14. For other routes covered under RCS, the limit remains seven weekly flights.
Raju said priority areas are regions which have a record of low air connectivity since years and these include Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, North East region, the islands of Lakshwadeep and Jammu and Kashmir. Under UDAN, at least half of the seats on every flight are available under a fare cap of Rs 2,500 per seat per hour of flying. Operators in this round will be able to decide from about 350 airports and landing strips to operate RCS flights in the second round of bidding. The actual number of airports could increase as helicopters are able to land in places other than an airport or landing strip.
Briefing media on Thursday, aviation secretary RN Choubey said, “Airlines have ordered 100 regional planes so second round will be even more interesting.” IndiGo has announced it plans to buy 50 ATR planes, while SpiceJet has also signed a letter of intent to buy 50 Bombardier Q400 regional planes. Air India and SpiceJet are among airlines that have the biggest fleet of regional planes under this scheme.
IndiGo, which is the India’s largest airline operator in the domestic sector, is likely to participate in this round. Five airlines including Air India, SpiceJet, Turbo Megha, Air Odisha and Air Deccan were allotted 128 routes to fly in the first round, but only 16 routes on 8 under-served airports have been operationalised so far under first round of UDAN. New entrants Air Odisha and Air Deccan have not been able to take off yet. Choubey said the two new airlines will be able to do so by 30 September, when the six-month grace period for the first round ends.
The ministry said the un-served and under-served airports that will be connected by September under UDAN-1 include Agra, Pathankot, Shillong, Bikaner, Ludhiana, Durgapur, Vidyanagar, Salem, Mysore, Jamshedpur, Cooch Behar, Kullu, Bhavnagar, Jalgaon, Jamnagar, Kolhapur, Pantnagar, Diu, Nasik (Ozar), Raigarh and Mundra. The airports which need upgradation to host flights include Kanpur, Jaisalmer, Adampur, Raurkela, Burnpur, Utkela, Jeypore, Jharsuguda, Bilaspur, Ambikapur, Jagdalpur, Mithapur, Neyveli and Solapur.