Mumbai: The Centre's regional connectivity scheme (RCS) moved closer to reality with the aviation ministry set to sign an agreement with Maharashtra government on Tuesday under which almost eight airports in the state will be connected.
"I will be meeting Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis later in the day today and sign the regional connectivity scheme (RCS) agreement. Almost all other states are also interested in the RCS," Civil Aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju told a select group of reporters here in his first media interaction with the Mumbai press.
Under RCS, the Centre and the state will develop the Airports Authority-owned existing air strips in Solapur, Kolhapur, Jalgaon, Gondia, Akhola and Juhu and also the state government-owned ones in Nanded and Shirdi, Raju said.
However, the minister parried a question on the deadline for operationalising these airports, saying, "I don't set deadlines nor do I work under deadlines. But let's assume at the earliest."
"When we announced the RCS, we were speaking about a wish-list. This agreement is the first step to convert that wish-list into a work-list and then a reality," he said.
Exuding confidence that the plan will take wings sooner, he said, "A magazine has referred to me as a flightless bird. But I don't want to be flightless bird forever."
Stating that the country has become the fastest growing aviation market in the world with over 20 percent domestic traffic growth each month for the past several months, he said the RCS will help sustain the high growth trajectory, adding, "the new civil aviation policy cleared by the Cabinet on June 15 aims to take flying to the masses."
Under the RCS, the Centre will subsidise 80 per cent of the cost, while the states will meet the rest under the viability gap fund (VGF) envisaged. In the case of the Northeastern states, the central subsidy will be 90 percent, the minister said.
The RCS stipulates that the air tickets under a one-hour flight will be capped at Rs 2,500, and the VGF will take care of the rest of the operational cost.
Raju said the ministry hopes to meet its funding need from the Rs 500-crore estimated to be mopped up from the aircraft levy that will be passed onto other flayers.
"States will have to take some haircuts in the form of free land, security, fire services, water etc, while the Centre will have to forego excise duty on ATF and service tax on tickets," Raju said, adding that VGF and handholding cannot be for eternity but is capped for the first three years.
"We want to ensure that the airlines operating on regional routes are economically viable and therefor is the VGF, the haircuts on our side," the minister said.
Whether any airline has signed on for RCS, he said everybody is interested but nobody has come forward.
On whether he will push the already troubled Air India or its subsidiary Alliance Air to operate on these routes, he said, "I want everyone on board, including Air India."