More than 7.5 lakh passengers have travelled on 15,700 flights operated under the government’s regional air connectivity scheme (RCS) in the last 17 months after the scheme became operational. Of the 7.5-lakh passengers, 4.5 lakh received subsidised air fares, which are being offered under UDAN, the government initiative to make air travel to India’s tier II and tier III cities affordable to the common man.

The idea is to put smaller cities and remote regions on the aviation map by getting domestic airlines to ply on regional routes. Under the scheme, the government offers incentives to airlines to flag off new flights to neglected smaller cities and towns by providing Viability Gap Funding to make these operations profitable. Airlines are required to bid for exclusive rights to fly on the regional routes opened up under the scheme. They must sell a specific number of seats on each flight at a fixed fare of ₹2,500 for one hour of flying. In the case of helicopter operations, allowed for the first time now, fares are capped at ₹2,500 for a 30-minute flight.

Eight airlines, including Jet Airways, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Air Deccan, Megha Air and Zoom Air, operate flights under the UDAN scheme. The latest figures released by the Airports Authority of India, which manages the scheme, shows that the eight airlines, which are participating in the scheme, showed an average passenger load factor of 68 per cent on all the flights operated under the scheme.

Passenger load factor shows how many of the seats on offer by airlines are filled. A total of 96 routes, including the Delhi-Shimla route, come under the scheme. Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the scheme in April 2017 with the launch of the Alliance Air Shimla-Delhi flight.

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