Air India today informed the Supreme Court that it might start flights to Shimla under the new civil aviation policy ‘Udan’, a regional connectivity scheme. A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices D Y Chandrachud and S K Kaul asked the state-owned airline to file a status report as to by when it plans to start its service to Himachal Pradesh’s capital.
In its affidavit, Air India has said that keeping in mind the topography and feasibility of Shimla airport, ATR-42, a twin-turboprop, short-haul aircraft, is a suitable plane to fly to Shimla. It said that the airline has only three ATR-42 planes of which one flies to Andaman and Nicobar Island and one to the northeast while one such plane is under maintenance.
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Air India said that if still it needs to fly, then planes from international airlines or a domestic private airline will be taken for which viability gap funding is needed from the state government given the number of passengers.
To this, the bench said that what kind of funding the airline wants as it is a policy decision and to increase the regional connectivity scheme (UDAN) it has to start the service to Shimla.
Advocate Ashwarya Sinha, appearing for the Airports Authority of India (AAI,) also opposed the funding sought by Air India.
The bench the posted the matter to the last week to April and asked the airline to file the affidavit as to by when flights can be started to Shimla.
Taking strong note of lack of connectivity to Shimla and other hill regions, the apex court had last year told the government that “earlier the service is resumed, the better,” and had directed the agencies concerned to give a categorical answer on the issue so that accountability can be fixed for non-compliance.
On April 21 last year, the court had said its earlier order will not prevent the competent authorities from directing other airlines to fly to a particular destination.
“The December 16, 2015 interim order shall not prevent the competent authorities from enforcing the operation the obligation of providing 10 per cent of (the capacity deployed on) category-I service (trunk routes) to category-II routes,” it had said.
Under the government’s Route Dispersal Guidelines, category-I routes are the busy routes connecting major metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai, while category-II are those in remote and difficult parts of the country, including Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast and the island territories.