NEW DELHI, Dec 3: In a first, four new air routes connecting northeastern states with international destinations have been approved under the Centre's flagship regional air connectivity scheme UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik).
These will connect Assam to Thailand and Bangladesh, Manipur to Myanmar and Tripura to Bangladesh.
To be operational in a few weeks, airfares on these approved routes - Guwahati-Bangkok, Guwahati-Dhaka, Imphal-Mandalay and Agartala-Chittagong - under the UDAN scheme, will be subsidised.
"These new routes have been in the pipeline since the concerned states made a demand," Anil Kumar Gupta, Executive Director, Airports Authority of India (AAI) told The Indian Express, on the sidelines of the recently-held 11th International Tourism Mart in Shillong.
Reasonable airfares could boost tourism from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan in the northeastern states, said officials in the Ministry of Tourism, which organises such a meeting every year in one of the eight northeastern states highlighting their tourism potential and rich biodiversity.
Four more routes connecting the northeast to neighbouring countries are further under consideration, Gupta said. International routes have to be cleared by the ministries of Home Affairs and External Affairs too.
Under the UDAN scheme, concerned states subsidise the airfares. The Airports Authority of India runs the bid process, selects the airlines, and informs the states about operators interested to offer services on the said routes.
States then pick the subsidy tab by providing viability gap funding to the lowest bidder.
In the last seven years, states offering regional air connectivity under the UDAN scheme have spent Rs 3,000 crore on subsidies.
The four new routes being considered promise huge tourism and business travel potential between the two cities. Of these, Guwahati-Dhaka and Agartala-Chittagong are under 500 km and once operational, may cost travellers under Rs 4,000.
With fares under Rs 4,000, states in the northeast with rich culture and biodiversity can attract a large number of tourists from neighbouring countries. Expanding air connectivity will also promote socio-economic growth.
Under the UDAN scheme launched in 2017, airlines could charge up to Rs 2,500 for journeys under 500 km for 40 seats on a flight (not for all seats). Now, they can charge up to Rs 3,800, say officials.
The 'International UDAN', conceived and launched in 2022, aimed to promote socio-economic growth by enhancing air connectivity from certain states to select international destinations.
Most of these routes requested by the northeastern states are untested and haven't had an international flight so far.
Presently, there are two international airports in the northeastern region - at Guwahati and Imphal, and are operated by Guwahati International Airport Limited (GIAL) and AAI, respectively.
A new terminal building at Agartala Airport has been designed as an integrated terminal keeping in view the future requirement for international operations, according to a statement by VK Singh, Minister of State, Civil Aviation, in Parliament, in April 2022.
The AAI is also upgrading the Imphal Airport - already declared an international airport - to handle 2.4 million passengers a year. �The India Express