Even though UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Aadmi), the government’s Regional Air Connectivity Scheme (RCS) has not been without its share of controversies, it is whetting the appetite of global aircraft makers. From Brazil’s Embraer to France’s ATR Group, aircraft manufacturers are seeing the potential of selling smaller aircraft to carriers in India, who are keen to be a part of the government’s scheme to link tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

The beginning

RCS started in April 2017 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagging off Alliance Air’s Delhi-Shimla route and Truejet connecting Hyderabad-Nanded and Hyderabad-Kadapa. Besides these, Air Deccan SpiceJet and Air Odisha also won routes during the first round of bidding.

The second round of bidding for routes is on with IndiGo, Jet and Zoom Air taking part in the process.

“India could easily see 300 Embraer, which can seat 70 to 120 passengers, and even more being sold in India,” says Cesar Peretra, Vice-President, Asia Pacific, Embraer Commercial Aircraft. He went on to add that the company’s ERJ 145, a 50-seater, is also a good option for flying under RCS.

This averages about 10 per cent of the 3,000 aircraft the aircraft maker predicts the Asia-Pacific region will require in the next 15 years.

Peretra claims that Embraer has received a lot of inquiries since the government announced UDAN. “I expect to announce new operators of the 50-seater aircraft in India very soon. Some of them are existing, some of them could be new players.”

Regional dynamics

Guillaume Huertas, ATR’s Head of Sales – South Asia, is equally bullish and feels that the ATR 42s and 72s are well suited for any regional market segment, particularly that of India, because of their outstanding economics and versatility. “ATRs are the perfect fit for India’s RCS. They successfully operate in all types of environments and are particularly adept at accessing remote areas, challenging airports with short runways or limited infrastructure,” he points out. Alliance Air operates using the ATR aircraft, while SpiceJet uses the Bombardier Q 400 aircraft on its UDAN routes.

Huertas adds that the company’s ATR 72-600 also has the lowest cost mile cost, and the 50-seater ATR 42-600 has the lowest trip cost in its segment. Moreover, the two also have a proven track record at opening about 100 new routes worldwide.

Aashish Sonawala, Senior Vice-President and Manager, GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), too, is equally excited. According to him, having leased regional jets and turboprops to both private and government-owned airlines in India for the past 10 years, GECAS has a history of supporting the growth of the regional airline sector. “We are keen to further contribute to this initiative with both regional jets and turboprops to meet regional demand to complement the trunk domestic and international routes using narrow and wide bodies,” he adds.

There’s something in everyone

These manufacturers feel that their aircraft have something different to offer operators in India. If Peretra emphasises on the ability of Embraer’s aircraft to land on short runways – between 1,000 to 1,100 metres – as among the various features that helped it capture almost 85 per cent of the US market, Huertas adds that the ATR 72-600 covers costs and becomes profitable sooner than its competitors. “Less than 20 passengers are required to break-even on UDAN routes, thanks to the government’s viability gap funding, which makes the ATR 72-600 the right aircraft to test and develop new markets. It is unmatched in terms of fuel efficiency, which is crucial in a region where fuel prices are higher than the global average,” he says.

These, however, are not the only options available to Indian operators for UDAN. Ajay Singh, the SpiceJet promoter, who already operates the Bombardier Q 400 on some of the airline’s UDAN routes, is now betting on Japanese company Setouchi Holdings’ amphibian aircraft to expand the airline’s foot print in the country.

According to Singh, the idea of getting these aircraft occurred to him when he was at the Dubai air show. “It was interesting to note that this aircraft can land on water. This makes you think that in a country which is so constrained for infrastructure and there are so many small cities and towns where there is nothing like an airport, these places can be provided with air connectivity,” says Singh.

What possibly prompts SpiceJet to go in for Seotuchi Holdings’ amphibian aircraft is because “this aircraft has been used in diverse markets such as Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Indonesia”, says Go Okazaki, Executive Managing Director and Associate Senior Corporate Executive Officer, Business Promotion and Overseas Business Development, Setouchi Holdings.

If Singh decides to go for these aircraft, the order will be in excess of 100, and will give the airline the option of landing both on water and at landing strips in remote parts of the country.

Ashwini Phadnis was at the Dubai air show at the invitation of flydubai