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RCS-UDAN Scheme on ground level

  • Published
    31st Jul, 2023

According to a recent update, out of the 479 airport routes that were revived by the Union Government, under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS-UDAN), 225 have ceased its operations.

About the update:
  • As per the information, of the 225 routes that have ceased operations, 128 routes shut down even before completing the mandatory three-year period under the scheme.
  • Airlines found 70 of these routes to be commercially unviable despite the subsidy, while the remaining 58 have been cancelled either due to “non-compliance” by the airline operator, or the airline surrendering routes, or the airline companies shutting down.
  • As many as 97 routes shut down after completing the three-year period during which the government provides support.

Scenario of Civil aviation in India:

  • Since the launch of modern civil aviation in India in 1911, only 76 airports had been connected by scheduled commercial flights.
  • The number of operational airports has gone up to 141 from 76 in 2014.

With 479 new routes initiated, UDAN Scheme has provided air connectivity to more than 29 States/ UTs across the country.

About Regional Connectivity Scheme – UDAN:

  • UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik) is a regional connectivity scheme launched by the Government of India, as a part of the National Civil Aviation Policy in 2016
  • It aims to operation for a period of 10 years (2016-26), envisages providing connectivity to un-served and underserved airports through revival of existing airports and air strips.
  • Objective: To take flying to the masses by improving air connectivity for tier-2 and tier-3 cities and subsidising air travel on these routes.
  • The routes are awarded after a bidding process, and the winning airlines are given certain incentives, along with viability gap funding (or a subsidy) equivalent to 50% of the seating capacity on their aircraft.
    • In return, the airlines sell 50% of their seats at a flat rate of 2, 500 per hour of flight, in order to make air travel affordable.
  • Airport Authority of India (AAI) is the implementing agency for the scheme.

Phases of the Scheme:

  • RCS – UDAN scheme has gone through different phases in which new flight routes and airports/airstrips have been added under the program:
    • UDAN 1.0:
      • 5 airlines companies were awarded 128 flight routes to 70 airports.
    • UDAN 2.0:
      • In Phase 2, helipads were also connected.
      • In this phase, Central government awarded contracts to 15 airliners to operate in 325 routes across hilly, remote areas.
      • It involved connecting 56 new airports and helipads to 36 existing aerodromes, as per the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
    • UDAN 3.0:
      • Inclusion of Tourism Routes under Phase 3 in coordination with the Ministry of Tourism.
      • Inclusion of Seaplanes for connecting Water Aerodromes.
      • Bringing in a number of routes in the North-East Region under the ambit of UDAN.
    • UDAN 4.0:
      • Phase 4 of the scheme was launched in December 2019 with a special focus on North-Eastern Regions, Hilly States, and Islands.
    • UDAN 4.1:
      • Launched in March 2021, the UDAN 4.1 round is focused on connecting smaller airports, along with special helicopter and seaplane routes.
      • In addition to these, some new routes have been proposed under the Sagaramala Seaplane Servicesin consultation with the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways.
    • UDAN 5.0:
      • Launched in April 2023, the UDAN 5.0 round is focused on Category-2 (20-80 seats) and Category-3 (>80 seats) aircrafts.
      • There is no restriction on the distance between the origin and the destination of the flight.
      • Airlines would be required to commence operations within 4 months of the award of the route; earlier this deadline was 6 months.

What are the Challenges?

  • Infrastructure: Lack of instrument landing systems (ILS) lead to flight cancellations and the repeated cancellations make it difficult to build traffic on the route on a sustained basis.
  • Traffic route - While the infra challenge might be easier to fix, the bigger challenge is putting in place an ideal network design.
  • Thus, the key is to discover routes where there is sustained traffic, not just in a few months of the year, but all round the year.
  • Time slots - Subsequently, finding convenient time slots for every route will become an administrative challenge.
  • This is because, the number of runways is not increasing in high traffic airports and the airport capacity lagging the passenger traffic growth.
  • Especially, the new regional airlines have faced a major challenge in connecting the metro airports to the new Udan routes, since they don’t have pre-existing slots in them.
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