Mobile air traffic control (ATC) towers mounted on the back of a truck will help Airports Authority of India to connect some of the remote airports recently revived under the government’s UDAN scheme. AAI has identified seven airports without an ATC and has invited tenders for as many towers, according to sources. These seven airports are among the total 45 underserved and unserved airports revived under the first round of bidding for UDAN or regional connectivity scheme (RCS) routes and are likely to witness a spike in flight operations after five airlines were awarded 128 routes in March this year. The seven airports include Utkela and Jeypore in Odisha, Mithapur and Mundra in Gujarat, and Neyveli in Tamil Nadu, according to AAI sources. The reason why mobile towers are being deployed instead of permanent ones is to ensure operational costs are kept to a bare minimum in order to make flying affordable under the scheme, which is also known as UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik). A mobile ATC tower will cost approximately Rs 7 crore, said an AAI official. Mounted on the back of a truck the entire tower can be unpacked and lifted with the help of a hydraulic system. The RCS scheme aims at providing air connectivity to tier-2 and tier-3 cities and making flying affordable to the masses with fares capped at Rs 2,500 per hour.
Another source at AAI said that the reason for procuring mobile towers instead of investing large sums of money on a permanent tower is that the “future of these airports is uncertain” as it is not known how much passenger demand they will witness. He added that if passenger traffic picks up then a permanent tower can be built. Mobile towers are, however, not a novelty and have been used in the past to start operations at airports like Dharamshala and Gaggal in Himachal Pradesh and Dehradun in Uttarakhand, among others.
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The UDAN scheme took off in April with the prime minister flagging off the Shimla-Delhi, Kadapa-Hyderabad and Nanded-Hyderabad air routes. Since then Air India subsidiary Alliance Air has also started UDAN flights on Delhi-Gwalior-Indore-Mumbai route. SpiceJet also announced recently that it will introduce two new daily direct flights to Porbandar and Kandla from Mumbai next month.