UDAN Is Good on Paper to Fly, May Not Benefit Common Man

UDAN Is Good on Paper to Fly, May Not Benefit Common Man

UDAN was launched today with a promise that the common man can fly. But the regional flight scheme may benefit only businessmen and the affluent.

UDAN Is Good on Paper to Fly, May Not Benefit Common ManPrime Minister Narendra Modi today launched UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik) with the promise that the common man need no longer dream to fly – he or she can. 

Under the scheme, five airlines will operate on 128 routes connecting 70 airports, including 31 unserved and 12 under-served ones. The price of the ticket would be capped at Rs 2,500 for a one hour flight.

But look deeply. Will UDAN really make the common man rush to airports to catch a flight just as he does catching a bus or train?

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Probably not. For starters, the common man in India is extremely price conscious. To catch a flight, he or she would have to spend close to Rs 800-1000 to reach an airport. And then, on landing, another Rs 500 plus to reach the destination.

That makes it close to Rs 1500 extra. So, the total cost would come to Rs 4000. How many would spend this money to fly when he or she could as well go in an AC train at half the price and add a few hours extra?

Take for example Kadapa, a town in drought-prone Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh. This town is no big tourism destination. The common man in Kadapa typically earns enough to keep his family afloat. Would he fly to Hyderabad?

At best, businessmen in Hyderabad would go to Kadapa to finalise a deal or two.

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Unless the government provides economic last mile connectivity, UDAN may still be a dream for the common man.

That is not to underwrite destinations like Shimla from where Modi launched UDAN today. Shimla is a tourism destination. And, again, only the upper middle class would fly to Shimla from Delhi as the airport there is a good 22 km away from the heart of the city. A bus or cab ride would be far cheaper for a family of four.

Speaking after launching UDAN, the Prime Minister said: “There was a lack of aviation policy in India in spite of being a large country. We now have the opportunity to create an aviation policy. The lives of the middle class are being transformed and their aspirations are increasing. Given the right chance they can do wonders. Earlier aviation was considered to be the domain of a select few. That has changed now.”

He is right. With UDAN, flying would be the domain of a select few plus a few more select few. But not the average common man – say a teacher, policeman or a clerk in a government office.

Along with Delhi-Shimla flight, Modi also simultaneously flagged off the inaugural UDAN flights on Kadapa–Hyderabad and Nanded-Hyderabad sectors through a video-link. On each flight, 50 per cent of the seats would have a cap of Rs 2,500 per seat/hour.

The Shimla flight to Delhi under the UDAN scheme will cost Rs 1,920 for 50 per cent of the seats in 35-seat ATR-42 of the Alliance Air while rest of the seats will be sold on flexi rates, which may cost anywhere between Rs 5000 to 15,000, said Managing Director Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation Dinesh Malhotra.

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So, read the fineprint. Only 17 people can go on a ticket that will cost Rs 1,920. The remaining would have to shell down a huge sum. The common man would think not twice, but multiple times before taking wings to Shimla.

That is not to trash the scheme. It needs a great deal of additional workup. Last minute connectivity is one of them.

Under UDAN, five airlines will operate on 128 routes connecting 70 airports, including 31 unserved and 12 under-served ones. The operators are Air India’s subsidiary Airline Allied Services, SpiceJet, Air Deccan, Air Odisha and Turbo Megha. They would be operating 19-78 seater aircraft.

These flights would connect airports spread across over 20 states and union territories including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

Two important tourist destinations are out of UDAN – Rajasthan and Kerala. This is because the tourism destinations are well connected.

The UDAN Scheme is a key component of the National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) which was released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on June 15, 2016.

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