From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : UDAN Scheme
Mains level : Aviation infrastructure in India
PM launched the UDAN scheme nearly five years back with the aim to take flying to the masses. However, many routes have launched by airlines have been discontinued.
- The Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) scheme is a low-cost flying scheme launched with the aim of taking flying to the masses.
- The first flight under UDAN was launched by the PM in April 2017.
- It is also known as the regional connectivity scheme (RCS) as it seeks to improve air connectivity to tier-2 and tier-3 cities through revival of unused and underused airports.
Working of the Scheme
- Airlines are awarded routes under the programme through a bidding process and are required to offer airfares at the rate of ₹2,500 per hour of flight.
- At least 50% of the total seats on an aircraft have to be offered at cheaper rates.
- In order to enable airlines to offer affordable fares they are given a subsidy from the govt. for a period of three years.
Present status of working
- A total of nine rounds of bidding have taken place since January 2017.
- The Ministry of Civil Aviation has set a target of operationalizing as many as 100 unserved and underserved airports and starting at least 1,000 RCS routes by 2024.
- So far, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has awarded 948 routes under UDAN, of which 403 routes have taken off that connect 65 airports.
- Out of the total 28 seaplane routes connecting 14 water aerodromes, only two have commenced.
Issues with the working
- Discontinuance: In reality, some of the routes launched have been discontinued as most of the routes awarded under UDAN are not active.
- On-paper Ambitions: UDAN was expanded to provide improved connectivity to hilly regions and islands through helicopters and seaplanes. However, they mostly remain on paper.
- The reasons include:
- Failure to set up airports or heliports due to lack of availability of land
- Airlines unable to start flights on routes awarded to them or finding the routes difficult to sustain
- Adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Lack of funds: Many small airlines await infusion of funds, to be able to undertake maintenance of aircraft, pay rentals to lessors, give salaries to its staff, etc.
- Maintenance issue: Many players don’t have more than one or two planes and they are often poorly maintained. New planes are too expensive for these smaller players.
- Availability of pilots: Often, they also have problems with the availability of pilots and are forced to hire foreign pilots which costs them a lot of money and makes the business unviable.
- Competition: Only those routes that have been bagged by bigger domestic players such as IndiGo and SpiceJet have seen a better success rate.
- The govt offers subsidies for a route for a period of three years and expects the airline to develop the route during this time so that it becomes self-sufficient.
- Airlines need an extension of the subsidy period for their operational continuity.
- Due to the rise in COVID cases, travel restrictions and passenger safety too needs to be taken into consideration in the loss-making of such airlines.