In what could be a major push to India's Act East Policy, Tripura and Manipur capitals may soon be connected by air with neighbouring Bangladesh and Myanmar under the Centre's UDAN scheme.
Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on Sunday announced that flights would soon begin between Tripura capital Agartala and Chittagong in Bangladesh, and between Manipur capital Imphal and Mandalay in Myanmar.
Scindia made the announcement while virtually flagging off three flights connecting five cities of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, and Mizoram. Alliance Air will operate the flights on these routes. Scindia said that the Agartala-Chittagong and Imphal-Mandalay flights would expand the scope of air connectivity in the Northeastern states from national to the international level.
At present, there is only one international flight operating out of the Northeast, between Guwahati and Thimphu (Bhutan).
Viability gap funding is provided to the airline operators under the Centre's Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) to connect the unserved and underserved airports across the country. The scheme is called Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN). Although the RCS was initially meant for regional connectivity, Northeastern states moved the Centre with a request to expand it for air connectivity between the region and the neighbouring Southeast Asian nations in order to push trade and tourism under the Act East Policy.
The flights inaugurated on Sunday would run between Imphal-Aizawl, Shillong-Lilabari (Assam) and Lilabari-Ziro (Arunachal Pradesh).
Scindia stated that the Narendra Modi-led government has given special emphasis on air connectivity for the Northeastern region, saying, "In the last eight years, seven airports have been developed in the region. Under the UDAN scheme, 14 per cent routes have been awarded to the Northeast. Under UDAN 4.2, about 18 per cent routes have been awarded to the Northeast. A corpus of Rs 500 crore has been dedicated to the air-connectivity of the Northeast. Under Krishi UDAN, 25 airports have been incentivised in the region."
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also virtually took part in the function, stated that all the cities in the Northeast have been brought under the UDAN scheme and this has provided to be a major push to connectivity in the region. "Today our Northeast is fuelling India’s aviation growth. With the UDAN scheme in force, aircraft movement in the Northeast from August 2017 to August 2022 rose to 7,973 flights, which is an increase of 36 per cent, higher than the growth rates in East, West, North and South zones," Sarma said.
Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu said that introduction of passenger flights between Ziro in Lower Subansiri district and Lilabari in Assam on Sunday was a major push to aviation in the frontier state. He added that nine advance landing grounds of the IAF, which remained unused, had been made air worthy over the past eight years. A fixed wing aircraft will operate twice a week between Ziro and Lilabari.
"While Pasighat and Tezu already have fixed wing commercial air connectivity, today we have added Ziro. Of the remaining six ALGs, three are feasible for fixed wing flight landing and three – Tawang, Aalo and Walong – will be used as heliports,” Khandu said.
He said that the greenfield airport at Hollongi near Itanagar is ready for operation and the state was waiting for its inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.