State governments are offering to underwrite certain capacity for flights that connects regional airports under the Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (Udan) scheme after many new routes failed to generate enough enthusiasm among airlines.
Udan, launched in 2016, was positioned as a game changer as it promised to connect several unserved and underserved airports in the country by making air travel more affordable. But as new routes closed without receiving any bids, the Centre believes that the scheme needs some tweaking to regenerate interest from stakeholders.
Speaking to FE, civil aviation secretary Rajiv Bansal said: “A lot of the low hanging fruits, where it was easier to operate, are already done. As we go forward, it will become increasingly difficult. We will need to support them in better ways.”
With the opening of new airports, coupled with restarting of operations at older airports, state governments, which are eager to put non-metro markets on the aviation map, have come forward with a solution.
“The state governments have been coming forward to underwrite a certain number of seats. The prime minister inaugurated Shivamogga airport recently and now the Karnataka government is reaching out to air carriers with an assurance that they will underwrite some seats for some period of time,” Bansal added.
The Bihar government aimed to connect Begusarai airstrip under the Udan scheme, but no airline has submitted bids so far. The Birpur airstrip situated in Supaul district in Bihar figures in the tentative list of unserved airports in the Udan scheme document. However, none of the airlines has submitted any proposal to operate flights from there.
Improved network of wide multi-lane national highways, which has dramatically shortened travel time, could also be the reason behind the reluctance of airline companies to bid for routes under the Udan scheme.
“Before the opening of the Mumbai-Pune highway, there were eight flights by Jet Airways
IndiGo CEO Pieter Elbers said: “Some routes work, some don’t. Some cities were not ready for it fully yet. The scheme will evolve. The scheme itself has a lot of value; that the precise application of the scheme may need to be tuned a little bit.”
In February, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman doubled the outlay for the regional connectivity scheme for 2023-24 to `1,244 crore, from the current year’s budgetary estimates of `601 crore.
The outlay is part of the efforts to operationalise 1,000 Udan routes and to revive or develop 100 unserved and underserved landing sites such as airports, heliports, water aerodromes and advanced landing ground by 2024.
The government had put out bids for six routes under the international Udan scheme, connecting Imphal, Agartala and Assam, but no route has been operationalised yet.