MoCA eyeing air-connectivity to iconic tourist sites; chopper connect for the NORTHEAST

Usha Padhee, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation suggested that the ministry was exploring all possibilities to link iconic tourist destinations with major international airports for seamless connectivity. She was speaking at the recently held FICCI Investors Summit in Delhi.

Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) was addressing infrastructural constraints to develop new airports, said Usha Padhee. She noted that Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) – which was being touted as one of the most successful initiatives in the aviation sector – was being put to use to remove existing bottlenecks in some of the “remote and regional areas” in the country. “Whether it is providing proper navigational needs, technology, or better safety and security, all these aspects are being looked into by the ministry,” she declared.

She stressed that the ministry was looking at “focussed ways” in which connectivity to important tourism centres could be accentuated, under the RCS. She informed that the ministry was going to hold a separate round of bidding for tourist sites. She added that besides expanding on the existing routes under the centrally-sponsored UDAN scheme, the ministry was eyeing improving helicopter connectivity to North-eastern states, hilly states, and islands. “This can be a good infrastructural support for the tourism sector,” she said.

She assured the industry of “constructively addressing” issues such as visas and immigration clearances through a “forum, jointly created with the MoT.”

She pointed out the contrast between infrastructure and connectivity in the domestic aviation landscape and mentioned that destinations such as Khajuraho were “perfect examples of places where despite the infrastructure, thanks to an airport, connectivity hadn’t materialized.” She added that the tourism ministry was working in collaboration with the aviation ministry and “several meetings  were held on the issue.” She, however, noted that a feasible market was necessary for an airline to operate to a destination and the “deal needed to be sweetened” for carriers. “We will give them Viability Gap Funding (VGF),” she shared.  The tourism minister had stated that VGF for connecting the Buddhist Circuit was going to be funded by the Tourism Ministry, Usha Padhee shared.

She conceded that she was with tourism stakeholders on the issue of linking all important sites with flights, but convincing carriers, given the stupendous growth in traffic and limited capacity, was an uphill task.

Pitching for a separate model to explore the possibility of non-scheduled operations to overcome market constraints, she argued that some of the sites such as Khajuraho could be seasonal draws, thereby deterring scheduled carriers from foraying into such markets. “Schedule operations cannot depend on a 3-month tourist season,” she said.  She noted that “an arrangement or tie-up akin a package could be created where an operator could provide air-connectivity and the destination could be sold to discerning tourists.”

Speaking on the importance of air-connectivity to north-eastern states, she said that tourists wanted to spend more time at the destination, rather than travelling to get there. She noted that the ministry did not have “so many resources to do everything everywhere” and advocated prudent planning. She suggested that linking iconic sites across the country with major international airports was important to ensure “seamless connectivity for travellers.” 

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