To improve air connectivity to the country’s hilly areas and islands by use of smaller aircraft, the Centre is likely to ease norms for bidding under its regional connectivity scheme (RCS), a senior civil aviation ministry official said today. The government has categorised these regions as “high prirority areas” for enhancing connectivity. The RCS, also known as UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik), aims at making flying affordable for the masses by capping fares at Rs 2,500 per hour as well as improving connectivity to tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Operators, who are awarded routes under the scheme, are entitled to a subsidy to keep fares low for the passengers. An airline has to set aside 50 per cent of its seating capacity at the discounted fares.
The first round of bidding under the RCS was carried out in March and five airlines were awarded 128 routes. The two parameters that are likely to be relaxed are frequency of flights on a route as well as distance between two airports, a senior official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, who did not want to be identified, told reporters here. At present, an airline operator can bid for a maximum of seven flights on a route. However, this upper limit can be revised to provide more flights for the passengers. As per specifications for the first round of bidding, the distance between two airports was required to be not less than 150 kms for operations through fixed-wing aircraft, which could be revised.
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This move is likely to benefit Jammu and Kashmir, the seven north-eastern states, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshwadeep. The government was also mulling over amending the exclusivity clause under which an airline operator was granted exclusive rights to fly on a route for a period three years. However, following resistance from the airlines, the government is expected to leave this criteria untouched. “The airlines told us that exclusivity is the main incentive for them and that without it the (commercial) risk (of flying to remote areas) will be enhanced,” the official said. The civil aviation ministry has held two rounds of consultations with stakeholders and is now finalising bidding specifications for the next phase of the RCS.