Estd. 2006
UDAN – Ushering revolution in aviation sector

Rohit Mathur

THERE IS NO EXAGGERATION in saying that UDAN scheme is the most innovative and intelligently designed scheme ever brought in aviation sector in post-independenceIndia. The impact which UDAN is bringing on ground may not be apparently visible in Delhi but it is making asilent revolution in some of the remote and far-flung areas of the country. UDAN success stories are spread out in multiple tier 2 and tier 3 cities all over India. 

Take the example of Darbhanga, the second airport to start operations in Bihar after Patna. It has turned out to be a big success story of UDAN and today Darbhanga handles traffic of 1500 + passengers every day. Same story goes for Prayagrajand Kanpur where there were hardly any flights operating to these cities before Indigo started Prayagraj-Banglore and Spicejet started Kanpur-Delhi under UDAN around 2018-19. Today in just 4-5years both these airports handle 1000-1500 passengers daily. There are several other examples of UDAN success stories like Bareilly, Shimoga, Kannur etc. These tier 2 and tier 3 cities have suddenly become harbinger of growth for commercial aviation.Airlines are not just getting good traffic but their average per seat km revenue is higher in these tier 2 tier 3 towns when compared to flights operating between metro cities.

Encouraged with huge response from these UDAN flights, airlines are nowmore than eager to start new Udan routes in tier 2/3 cities. This is just half the story. The bigger story of UDAN is emergence of a number of smaller players operating small aircrafts and helicopters to some of remotest and unconnected towns of India. It is very surprising that before UDAN scheme came into picture a country of the size of India had only 1 aircraft in less than 80 seat category which was ATR 42 operated by Alliance Air in Shimla route. There always existed potential of operating 9-19 seater aircrafts in several towns and cities butin absence of incentives which are provided under the UDAN scheme, smaller operators could never dare to take the plunge.

Aviation is a very tricky business and operating scheduled flights is not easy for smaller players (Even bigger ones have kept sinking). There are multiple problems which are being faced by smaller operators. Firstly the risk appetite is much lower which is a basic requisite to enter aviation business. Secondly in India the financing ecosystem does not exist and no bank wants to finance aviation companies, some due to previous bad experiences with bigger airlines. Even the international finance or leasing institutions are hesitant to support smaller airlines. Despite so many constraints if nearly half a dozen new players have started Regional Connectivity flights on smaller aircrafts it is only because of UDAN scheme. Without the incentives of UDAN scheme all these smaller operators would never have had the courage to start scheduled operations. Notable name among smaller operators is STAR Air which started operations on 50 seater Embraer 145 aircraft and within 4-5 years this small airline has expanded to a fleet size of 9 aircrafts and now they are operating at 18 airports most of which never had flights earlier.

This aircraft was also a new addition in Indian aviation as a result of UDAN. Some of the other smaller aircrafts introduced due to UDAN are 3-seater piston engine Tecnam aircraft by Air Taxi,9-seater Cessna Caravan by IndiaOne and 19-seater Dornier 228 by Alliance Air and Twin Otter by Flybigairlines. Introduction of 19-seater aircrafts in India is a very important milestone and has huge potential. Smaller aircrafts can operate at smaller runways and do not require expensive airport infrastructure. Some of the airports at which these small aircrafts are operating have minimal infrastructure like Cooch Behar in West Bengal,Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand etc. A road journey from Dehradun to Pithoragarh takes 18 hours and flight takes only 1 hour. Reaching from Cooch Behar to Kolkata takes 17-18 hours by road and similar time by train but now people can use the UDAN flight and reach Kolkata in an hour.Subsidised airfares in UDAN have only added icing on the cake for people living in these far-flung areas.

Udan scheme is also proving to be a turning point for helicopters. Heritage Aviation identified the potential of UDAN scheme right since beginning and were the first private helicopter company to start UDAN flights on helicopters in February 2020.It is operating daily connectivity from Dehradun to far flung border districts of Chamoli and Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand. More than 80 % of the passengers are local people, reiterating the fact the UDAN’s theme of Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrikand our Prime Minister’s vision of hawai chappal walehawaijahaz me chaleare not just mere slogans but are actually getting realized due to UDAN.

In latest round of UDAN 5.1 tender the airlines has been awarded several new routes in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim and very soon daily flights will commence connecting remote and picturesque towns of Munsiary, Pithoragarh and Champawat with Haldwani. Helicopter flights to these small towns will not just provide much needed air connectivity but also boost tourism in these areas. The Government has also relaxed several norms for helicopters and small aircrafts making it much more attractive for the industry.

Covid pandemic played a major role in derailing the delivery of UDAN scheme as all operators were badly affected. However, in last 2 years industry has managed to surpass the damage done by pandemic. Next 5 years present huge opportunity and now the industry is prepared to ride the growth wave and we will see massively transformative results of UDAN scheme which many industry observers could never imagine.

(Rohit Mathur is the Founder and CEO of Heritage Aviation Pvt Ltd)

March 01 2024