Modi said that the Delhi-Shimla flight, with a fare of Rs 2,036 per seat, will be cheaper than a taxi ride. Photograph: (Zee News Network)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today flagged off a flight from Shimla to New Delhi, the first such venture under a government scheme which seeks to popularise regional air travel on short sectors by capping fares at Rs 2,500 per hour.
"I want to see people who wear Hawaii chappal (rubber slippers)in a hawai jahaaz (aircraft)," PM Modi said at the launch of the flight under the government's regional connectivity scheme (RCS), six months after it was announced last October.
The prime minister also simultaneously flagged off RCS flights on the Kadapa-Hyderabad and Nanded-Hyderabad sectors through a video-conference at the event.
He announced that the next flight under the scheme would operate on the Mumbai-Nanded sector.
Modi said that the Delhi-Shimla flight, with a fare of Rs 2,036 per seat, will be cheaper than a taxi ride.
"Earlier we used to believe that air travel was meant only for rajahs and maharajahs. This is the thinking that we need to change," he said.
The prime minister also recalled that he had proposed to Rajiv Pratap Rudy when Rudy was the civil aviation minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government that the Maharajah be replaced as the mascot for Air India with cartoonist RK Laxman's Common Man.
Under RCS, five airline operators, which were selected after a bidding process last month, will have to provide 50 per cent of their total seats on a flight on select sectors at fares not more than Rs 2500 per hour.
They were together awarded 128 routes.
The government will also provide financial assistance to the operators on these routes.
The scheme provides for various benefits including no airport charges and three-year exclusive flying rights on the routes.
The flight from Shimla is being operated by Air India's subsidiary, Alliance Air. The airline has deployed its 42- seater ATR plane on this sector.
Twelve passengers were aboard the plane, which can accommodate only up to 15 passengers when flying out of Shimla because of the length of the runway and other factors such as altitude and temperature.
Under RCS, called Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN), the government also aims at connecting 45 unserved and under- served airports.
"It has been 70 years since Independence but we have only 70-75 airports. After RCS we have been able to add more than 30 new airports for commercial operations," Modi said.
He also advised airline operators to explore a circular air route connecting Nanded Sahib, Amritsar Sahib and Patna Sahib, saying it would attract Sikh tourists from across the world.
Regional connectivity will bring development to tier-2 and tier-3 cities which are becoming "growth engines", he said.
It will also enhance connectivity to the north-eastern region, he added.
"The scheme will also contribute to national integration. Different cultures and tradition will be able to intermingle," he said.
"Sab ude, sab jude (Everyone will fly and unite)," was the PM's slogan.
Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha, who also attended the event, tweeted, "UDAN all set to unify India as its soaring wings of regional air connectivity span across 70 airports."
Later, Modi also laid the foundation of the Hydro Engineering College at Bilaspur through a video-link. He said the institute would help provide specially trained manpower for the hydro power sector.
Himachal Pradesh Governor Acharya Devvrat, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, Union Health Minister J P Nadda and Leader of the opposition in the HP Assembly P K Dhumal received the prime minister, who was accompanied by Union ministers Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Sinha at the Jubberhatti airport in Shimla.