The ministry, under its second edition of UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik) scheme, is also trying to give more connectivity to regional places. Some of the major relaxations include dilution of exclusivity clause that mandated that only one airline flies on one route in the initial years.

It has also relaxed the rule that the origin and destination airports must be 150km apart to qualify for the regional connectivity scheme (RCS) under which fares are capped at Rs2,500 per hour of flying. The ministry claims these initiatives will connect new destinations through air routes, allow travellers to save time and enable people from small-towns to take their first flights.

While announcing the scheme, minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha said that at present there are only close to 200 commercial helicopter services, and in a country like India, it has the potential to go up to 2,000.

NEW CONNECTIONS
If the scheme is successfully implemented, the air connectivity to difficult terrains of Jammu and Kashmir, northeast India, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep will get a major push. The ministry has marked these regions under priority areas. The winners of the second round of bidding under UDAN are to be announced by November-end.

The actual number of airports could increase, as helicopters are able to land in places other than airports and landing strips. Under the scheme, an operator is entitled to receive funds from the government in the form of viability gap funding (VGF) if a fixed number of seats on the flight are sold at a fare of up to Rs2,500. “We have increased the viability gap funding for helicopters. The way their flight time is calculated has also been made more realistic. We expect this to lead to improved connectivity in priority areas. The first round of bidding was successful. Airlines have ordered 100 regional planes and we expect the second round to be even more interesting,” said aviation secretary RN Choubey.

He added that airlines have ordered 100 regional planes so second round will be even more interesting. IndiGo has announced it plans to buy 50 ATR planes and SpiceJet has also signed a letter of intent to buy 50 Bombardier Q400 regional planes. Air India and SpiceJet are among airlines that have the biggest fleet of regional planes under this scheme. Five airlines, including Air India, SpiceJet, Turbo Megha, Air Odisha and Air Deccan, were allotted 128 routes to fly in the first round by March, but only 16 routes have been operationalised. The ministry claims that it is monitoring Air Odisha and Air Deccan and they should start flying by September-end.