- A year since the Centre unveiled the regional air connectivity scheme (RCS) with the aim to connect tier-2 and tier-3 cities and make flying affordable for the masses, a mere 15% or 70 of the total 453 routes awarded to various airline and helicopter operators have taken off.
- Two rounds of bidding have ended for routes under the scheme, also known as Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN), in the past year. Operators are offered a subsidy by the Centre and the State governments to keep airfares low.
- While established players such as Air India subsidiary Alliance Air, budget carrier SpiceJet and regional airline TruJet have been able to deliver on most or all the routes awarded to them, smaller players like Air Odisha and Air Deccan, which won 65% of the routes, have only been able to service less than 15% of the total routes awarded in round one.
- In fact, smaller players like Air Odisha and Air Deccan have struggled to raise sufficient capital for their operations, hire trained manpower and lease planes, and have slowed down the implementation of the scheme.
- Sources in the Ministry of Civil Aviation said their services had been irregular, often due to lack of trained pilots or when the few planes they have were grounded due to technical issues.
- Infrastructure constraints, too, have checked the pace of implementation of the scheme.
- Some airports owned by State governments and private players have been hesitant in participating as there is little for them to gain with RCS flights exempt from paying landing and parking charges and States required to provide land, security and fire services free of cost.
- However, there may be a silver lining: many routes have seen a steady rise in the number of passengers, though there are still pockets such as those in the northeast which are yet to generate any interest in travellers.