SP's Airbuz


The Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) III recently announced by the Government may prove to be a game-changer for achieving air connectivi­ty in the remote areas of India


THE UDE DESH KA Aam Nagrik III (UDAN), recently announced by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA), may prove to be a game-changer for achieving the remote areas air connectivi­ty in India in a real sense. Without meaning at all, to take away any credit from MOCA for meeting the tough challenges of launching UDAN I & II, the newest UDAN III will, in the true sense, help to connect the remote parts of the country with metros and other large cities. The earlier two versions of UDAN were focussed on providing air connectivi­ty to places, hitherto not adequately served by any scheduled air services. The main criteria then had been connecting airports un-served or under-served with not more than seven flights in a week. However, this time around, without changing these criteria, three very important new dimensions have been added in UDAN III.

For the first time, the UDAN III scheme recognises the need to synergise the efforts of the MOCA and the Ministry of Tourism (MOT). As some seasoned profession­als of the Indian aviation industry would know, there used to be a common Ministry for ‘Avia

tion & Tourism’ earlier for the very reason that both sectors have to work in unison to achieve optimal growth in their respective areas of activity. While other routes would take three years to become self-sustainabl­e, the ones proposed by the MOT would surely take much less time before the Viability Gap Funding (VGF) becomes a redundant requiremen­t. Here, a rationalis­ed approach, keeping in mind the tourism season in India would be critical to long-term success and sustainabi­lity. There has been quite an encouragin­g response to air routes suggested by the MOT.

This is the time to begin planning big time on integratin­g tourism routes with long term goals of UDAN to provide affordable air connectivi­ty to remote parts of India. As has been the case for tourism routes in UDAN III, connecting far-flung places of interest to tourists, directly with metros and big cities, RCS should ultimately air connect India’s remote areas to bigger cities in the shortest possible time. There have been 46 routes proposed in UDAN III which qualify to be treated as Regional Connectivi­ty Scheme (RCS) routes as per existing norms and eligible for RCS being given by the MOCA. In addition, 60 tour

ism routes were proposed across India which would be provided VGF by the MOT through its own funds. The MOT is aiming to provide point-to-point air connectivi­ty to different tourism destinatio­ns to facilitate tourists planning to hop across to places of interest nearby. This strategy would specifical­ly encourage foreign tourists who visit India for a limited period and find it cumbersome to travel up and down through hubs available only at big cities and metros.

The other important feature of UDAN III is allowing singleengi­ne fixed-wing aircraft on RCS routes, as per the conditions prescribed by the Directorat­e General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for scheduled operations of these aircraft. Further, the aircraft, under this category, certified for nine passenger capacity and would be given VGF for all the nine seats and not just half of seating capacity. Scheduled Commuter Operators (SCOs), with long-term planning and vision, would find single-engine operations much more economical, without any compromise to flight safety. The BAOA has long been advocating for introducti­on of single-engine aircraft for commuter operations as being allowed in the US since long and in Europe from 2016 onwards. As safety data on single-engine operations in India builds up during the next few years, it would be possible to further rationalis­e safety regulation­s in this regard, including the training and licensing requiremen­ts for the aircrew.

Finally and most importantl­y, UDAN III, for the first time, sought to allow use of sea-planes in India on a large scale. Earlier attempts to carry out sea-plane operations through state-owned Pawan Hans did not meet with much success and remained confined to Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The UDAN III proposes ten water aerodromes in five states of the country for starting sea-plane operations. The country’s vast coastline offers endless opportunit­ies for large scale operations of sea-planes. The banks of the holy Ganges enhance the scope of viable sea-plane operations for inland water ways. This time, the sea-plane operations have been restricted to twin-engine aircraft. The BAOA would continue to work with MOCA to consider single-engine sea-plane operations in India for long-term economic gains, without any safety risks. It is just the beginning of sea-plane operations in India and the next phase of RCS i.e. UDAN IV, should see a more rationalis­ed approach to allow single-engine sea-planes for commuter services. Countries such as Canada, with large chunk of remote areas, have been able to reap rich economical benefits through single-engine sea planes. These sea planes not only connect remote areas, but are also a major attraction for tourists.

UDAN III is really coming of age for ambitious RCS, announced as the main thrust area in the National Civil Aviation Policy 2016 (NCAP 2016). With this approach of synergisin­g remote areas air connectivi­ty mission with the MOT, many new routes would open up to achieve the envisioned remote area air connectivi­ty for the inclusive economic growth of the nation. On January 25 this year, the MOCA announced the final award of 235 routes across 73 total proposals put forward by 11 air carriers in India. There were three specific proposals for sea-plane operations from six water aerodromes, which make their debut under UDAN III. These six water aerodromes are a mix of tourist destinatio­ns and commuter air operations to destinatio­ns such as the Statue of Unity and Guwahati riverfront.

The 235 awarded routes also comprise 46 tourism routes and 189 RCS routes, being provided the VGF by the MOT and MOCA, respective­ly. The VGF requiremen­t this time would exceed the funds available with the MOCA through its own levy on trunk routes and it plans to seek support from the Ministry of Finance to meet the requiremen­ts. The MOT is separately providing Rs 255 crore for routes of tourism interest, including some directly connecting metros and big cities to destinatio­ns of interest for domestic and internatio­nal tourists.

It would be prudent to expect UDAN III to become the big step forward to achieve optimal remote area air connectivi­ty in India during the next two years. There is the need to further rationalis­e the regulatory approach for commuter operations by single-engine helicopter­s and sea-planes. UDAN III did not include helicopter operations, which remain indispensi­ble for providing air connectivi­ty in remote hilly areas, where travel by road is time-consuming, especially due to landslides during the rainy season and heavy snowfall in winters. Due to weight restrictio­ns at high altitude, single-engine helicopter­s are the only viable option.

The case of single-engine sea-plane operations is no different. There is sufficient data available across the globe to establish that commercial sea-plane safety is entirely acceptable with single-engine aircraft, if the associated risks are managed appropriat­ely. Most experience­d sea-plane pilots observe that having an additional engine often tempts pilots to practice poor risk management by giving them an inappropri­ate sense of protection. In countries such as Canada, these single-engine seaplanes play the role of an economic multiplier and provide timely access to supplies and medical aid. Hopefully, there would soon be realisatio­n in India that single-engine sea-planes and helicopter­s are safe and economical­ly enabling.

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 ??  ?? The Union Minister for Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation, Suresh Prabhu announcing the UDAN 3.0 results in New Delhi in January 2019
The Union Minister for Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation, Suresh Prabhu announcing the UDAN 3.0 results in New Delhi in January 2019

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