Regional links get boost, 43 airports to start operations

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NEW DELHI: Forty-three unused airports will soon start operations as the government has got bids to start flights to and from these cities under the regional connectivity scheme (RCS). The first subsidised regional flight, with fares capped at Rs 2,500 per hour of flying, will take off by February-end or early March, said aviation minister Jayant Sinha on Thursday.
“We have got bids from 11 bidders, including schedule airlines, for 190 routes connecting 43 unserved airports like Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Jamshedpur Jalgaon and Akola and for 12 underserved (which get less than seven flights a week like Gwalior).This is the first round of bidding and affordable aerial regional connectivity will grow as more routes are bid out in coming days,” Sinha said.

The first RCS flight may be to Pantnagar, with the hill state city getting connected to Delhi and Dehradun. Jamshedpur-Kolkata may be the second. India has 35 airports which e ready to receive flights but are ready to receive flights but don’t get as airlines don’t find these routes financially viable.The overcome this challenge the government plans to raise viability gap funding (VGF) for RCS operators by charging Rs 7,500-8,500 on each schedule flight to and from big cities. It expected to raise Rs 400 crore from this cess for regional connectivity fund (RCF), apart from another 20% funding coming from state governments.However, airlines -which in turn will pass on this burden on flyers -have challenged this new cess in court.
Sinha said: “We are in talks with airlines on this issue.There are several ways to raise RCF and this was the most preferred one. However, operators need not worry as the government is backing this scheme and will pay them the required VGF.” The levy to fund RCS will be reviewed once every quarter to factor in fluctuation in prices of jet fuel and other operating cost.