In a move to increase air connectivity and boost low-cost flights between remote, strategic areas such as Jammu and Kashmir and North East India under the regional connectivity scheme (RCS) Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN), the Centre has identified airports and helipads in Phase-II of Narendra Modi's project launched this year.
According to The Indian Express, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has identified 24 airports and helipads for Phase-II of the RCS. Nine airports have been identified in Arunachal Pradesh, which borders China, five each in Assam and Manipur, two in Jammu and Kashmir and, one each in Tripura, Meghalaya, and Sikkim. Bidding for these routes under Phase-II began on 24 August.
In the first round of bidding, 128 routes that would connect 70 airports were awarded to five airlines and some of them are yet to start operations, reported PTI.
Airlines' performance and progress in starting flights on the routes won in the first round of bidding under the RCS will be taken into consideration before awarding them more routes, a senior government official told PTI.
The second round of bidding under the scheme is progressing and as many as 141 initial proposals from 17 players have been received so far. Out of the 141 proposals received, 33 of them are for helicopter flights, reported The Times of India.
"In all, operators have shown interest for flying on 502 regional routes. Of the airports they want to link, as many as 49 are currently unserved (get no flights); 15 are under-served (get less than 14 flights a week) and 38 have flight operations. Also, 24 helipads are on the wish list for round two of regional connectivity scheme (RCS). We will complete the process and then award the routes by the year-end," civil aviation secretary RN Choubey told The Times of India.
Choubey also told PTI that the performance of airlines that have won routes in the first round would be taken into account while deciding on awarding of routes in the second round. "If we find that their (airlines) progress is not up to the mark, then we will not rush into awarding any route in the second round of bidding if they have won. We would like to link their performance and progress in the first bidding round to any route that they may have won in the second round of bidding," he said on Tuesday.
He also stressed that performance of such airlines would be monitored.
Many of the airports identified for Phase-II are currently being used by the Air Force, according to Financial Express, such as Daporijo, Yinghong, Ziro, Pasighat, Along, Tuting, and Walong in Arunachal Pradesh, and Kishtwar and Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides this, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is expanding the number of airports in the northeastern states with the first airport in Sikkim to be built in Pakyong at an estimated cost of Rs 553.53 crore, the report stated.
AAI chairman Guruprasad Mohapatra downplayed the "defence" angle to the rapid expansion of air connectivity and said that infrastructural development was being carried out at "strategic locations" to improve connectivity, The Indian Express quoted him as saying.
"Lack of air connectivity is a huge problem in these places. At times of medical emergencies, it becomes next to impossible for support to reach there because airport infrastructure is not there. That is what we are trying to solve," he said.
As per sources, Phase-II of the RCS is expected to grow stronger with bids from leading players like Jet Airways and IndiGo, reported The Times of India.
Phase-I of RCS
Under Phase-I, five airlines, including SpiceJet, had won bids to operate on 128 routes connecting 70 airports in the first round of RCS bidding. Air Odisha Aviation got the maximum number of 50 routes followed by Air Deccan (34) and Turbo Megha Airways (18). The Air India subsidiary Airline Allied Services bagged 15 routes while SpiceJet won bids for 11 routes.
However, Air Deccan and Air Odisha are yet to start operations on account of various factors, including issues related to the availability of slots. According to Choubey, Air Odisha and Air Deccan are expected to commence significant part of their operations by 15 December.
About collection of RCS levy, he said that the paperwork related to Goods and Services Tax (GST) is in progress. Under RCS, airlines are eligible for viability gap funding. The amount is shared between the Centre and the states concerned. The levy is collected per departure from airlines operating flights on major routes.
"Since the GST has come, there are some exemptions we have to seek. The paperwork has already started. We are working in a certain manner to ensure that there is no reduction in the availability of funds (for RCS) on account of GST. The exact process is being discussed with the Department of Revenue," Choubey said.
A trust has been set up under the Airports Authority of India (AAI) where the levy collections are parked.
The UDAN scheme is a key component of the National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) which was released on 15 June, 2016.
These flights will connect airports spread across over 20 states and union territories including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The airports that would be connected under UDAN include Bhatinda, Shimla, Bilaspur, Neyveli, Cooch Behar, Nanded, and Kadapa.
On each flight, 50 percent of the seats would have a cap of Rs 2,500 per seat/hour.
Under UDAN, the operators would be extended viability gap funding — for which money is partly raised through a levy of up to Rs 8,500 on flights operating in major routes like Delhi and Mumbai. The viability gap funding amount is estimated to be around Rs 205 crore per annum for operators chosen in the first round of bidding. The viability gap funding would be in place for three years for the airlines concerned from the date of starting operations in a particular UDAN route.
The scheme also provides for various benefits including no airport charges and three-year exclusivity on the routes.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Nov 16, 2017 14:05 PM