The government is likely to offer only 20 airports in the second round of the bidding for flights under the regional connectivity scheme (RCS), Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey said today. In the first round, in which five air operators including government-run Air India and budget carrier SpiceJet got permission to fly on 128 routes, there were 33 airports in the bid offer. The second round of bidding for RCS routes is expected to take place by August end.
Taking both rounds together, the present government has put into public use 53 airports in the last three years, whereas only 76 airports could be added in 70 years, Choubey said at a conference organised by airlines passengers body, Air Passengers Association of India (APAI). According to an APAI release, the secretary said that there will be two major changes applicable in the case of North Eastern region and island states, such as Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshadweep, among others in the next round of bidding. These changes are relating to waiver of 150-km distance condition between two airports for availing RCS concessions and seating regulations for the aircraft landing at Advanced Landing Grounds (ALG), he was quoted as saying in the APAI release.
The distance stipulation in the second round of bidding will be waived off to facilitate intra-northeast air traffic, Choubey added. He also said that the condition of plying at least 9- seater aircraft or helicopter would be waived off for these two regions since there are many airstrips and ALGs, particularly in places like Arunachal Pradesh, where only a four-seater aircraft can land. “These will take care of some of the problems being faced by the airline and helicopter operators desirous of connecting remote areas,” Choubey added.
Noting that the aviation sector in India was growing at over 20 per cent year-on-year, the secretary said that the number of aircraft in India at present pegged at 395. This number would increase by 900 in the next five years or so, going by the new orders placed by the Indian airline companies, he added. He, however, observed that the plea of airlines and air passengers to extend RCS concessions to the air cargo movement in the second round of bidding could not be considered since the government would have to assess properly the financial commitments.
“May be in subsequent rounds, this proposition from the stakeholders can be addressed,” he added. An airline company like Spicejet, which was on the verge of closing down in the recent past, now has placed orders worth USD 22 billion with the Boeing company, which is a happy augury for the US, “which has been maintaining that Indians are stealing the jobs from the US citizens,” he said. The secretary said that many airlines are coming forward to connect the un-served and underserved airports without the support under viability gap funding (VGF). They want only a conducive eco-system to operate and make profits, he said, adding that for every seat under RCS, the government would have to shell out Rs 3,000 to make good the losses suffered by the airlines on account of the capping of airfares of at Rs 2,500.
Earlier, while welcoming the delegates, Sudhakara Reddy founder and National President, APAI underscored the need for greater interface with the air passengers, while formulating new set of polices and reviewing the existing ones since the passenger community is the central point of any scheme in aviation sector. “We lend our whole-hearted support to the civil aviation ministry and regulators to make the scheme a grand success and are willing to sit with all stakeholders in sorting out various vexatious issues that surface out from time to time,” he added.