The Indian government has greenlit four new air routes connecting the northeastern states to international destinations under the flagship regional aerial connectivity UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik), which literally translates to “Let the common citizens fly.”
This government initiative promotes regional air connectivity by making air travel affordable and accessible to a larger population, especially in remote locations and regions. This has been marked as the historic first of the region. The routes include connections from Assam to Thailand and Bangladesh, Manipur to Myanmar and Tripura to Bangladesh.
Scheduled to become operational within a few weeks, the airfares on these routes Guwahati-Bangkok, Guwahati- Dhaka, Imphal-Mandalay, and Agartala-Chittagong will be subsidised under the UDAN Scheme. Anil Kumar Gupta, the Executive Director of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), during the 11th International Tourism Mart in Shillong, Meghalaya reportedly said that new routes were proposed based on demands from concerned states and are aimed to promote tourism from the neighbouring countries.
The officials also reportedly said four more routes linking the northeast to neighbouring countries are in the pipeline. Two routes, Guwahati-Dhaka, and Agartala-Chittagong, are under 500km and expected to cost travellers under Rs 4000 once operational.
It is a regional connectivity scheme of the Government of India (GoI) launched in 2016, and it aims to allow common citizens easier access to aviation services. The idea to connect the Northeastern States airports internationally comes under the UDAN 4.0 Scheme.
Apart from the Northeast, the scheme also envisages connectivity to hilly states and islands as well. The airports that have been already developed by the AAI (Airports Authority of India) are given higher priority for the award of VGF (Viability Gap Funding) under the scheme.
The Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) scheme launched on April 27, 2017, initially capped airfares for journeys under 500km at Rs 2500 for 40 seats on a flight. Now, officials indicate that the airline charges can charge up to Rs 3,800 for the same.
Reasonable airfares could boost tourism from neighbouring 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 potential (tourism potential) and rich biodiversity
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.