The decision follows the successful take off of the first round of the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) and the launch of the second round of the scheme last month.
Rajiv Nayan Chaubey, Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, has termed under-served or unserved airstrips as potential “gold mines” in terms of their market potential in the country’s aviation industry.
Unserved airports like Bhatinda, Shimla, Nanded and underserved airports like Gwalior, Kadappa, Pondicherry and Porbandar, have already seen operations being started under the first round of the RCS. By the end of this month, 21 more airports would be connected to major airports across the country.
Over 15 unserved airports/airstrips are also under development and could soon see the light of day. Under the second round of bidding for the RCS that is likely to take place in November this year, more airports are likely to be added.
Places like Rourkela, Jharsuguda, Bilaspur, Kanpur, Solapur have airstrips, but have never seen a flight there. According to Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha, the government has earmarked over Rs 40,000 crore for the development of such airstrips into airports for better connectivity under RCS.
Jayant Sinha said, “The Prime Minister and the Ministry of Civil Aviation are very clear that we want all the people in the country to fly and therefore, we have taken this task of connecting rural and remote places with air and making it affordable for people in this country. We have been able to add 31 airports in just three years, while the previous governments in 75 years added fewer than 75 airports. We are committed towards cheap flying and have been working towards it.”
Usha Padhee, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, told The Sunday Guardian, “The 400 under-served and unserved airstrips will be developed as and when we have demand from the airlines to operate in those areas. We are ready to provide them all assistance. We have the second round of bidding coming up, under which many such airstrips which are lying vacant would be added for development. We are committed towards providing better and affordable air connectivity to all common citizens of this country.”
The Ministry of Civil Aviation is also likely to use several defence airstrips for commercial and civil operation purposes under RCS. Earlier this week, Secretary Chaubey had announced that the Hindon airbase of the Indian Air Force in Ghaziabad would be used as an extension of the Delhi airport for flights under RCS as there is slot constraint at the Delhi airport.
Chaubey told The Sunday Guardian, “We had requested the Indian Air Force to help us with RCS flights at the Hindon airbase and they have agreed to it. We are happy for that and now we will have to seek clearances from the Delhi International Airport Limited as current rules do not allow civil operations from any airport which is 150 km from an existing airport and the Hindon airbase is less than 150 km from the Delhi airport. Hence, its clearance is required and we are hopeful that we will be able to get that and start operations from there soon.”