Dusk is falling in the city of Darbhanga, the usual traffic on the roads is slowly gaining momentum. Especially on the road leading to Ahilya Mandir, as it fills up with white taxis carrying tourists around the city. Darbhanga, the cultural and musical capital of Bihar, is not new to seeing Indian and foreign tourists on its streets. A town known for huge trade in fish, mango and makhana. It has been a place of attraction for historians and culture enthusiasts.
But what is new in the town is the soaring sound of a white bird flying in the sky, carrying not just hundreds of passengers every day. But thousands of aspirations and millions of opportunities with it. This new bird flew in the air for the first time in 2020, with the launch of the first airport in Darbhanga. And it seems a million birds like the one in Darbhanga are now flying all over India. With the mushrooming of more than 70 airports in the past eight years, India is seeing what is called a V-shaped recovery in the aviation industry. A sector that was once considered the domain of a select few it has changed significantly to fly the common man from 146 points of India to different parts of the country and the world. This change is a demonstration of the government’s commitment to the Prime Minister’s vision of Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik. A Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) has played a critical role in democratizing the industry, making it accessible, available, affordable and inclusive for all.
The scheme in the past Six years of its implementation, has operated 2.15 lakh flights, carried 110 lakh passengers and developed and operationalized 70 airports across India. Additionally, this breath of fresh air is in no-way just restricted to flying more passengers but is also dedicated towards ensuring last-mile connectivity through the operationalization of helicopters and emergence of sea planes and smaller aircraft touching Indian skies. This surge in connectivity creates a web on the Indian map, ensuring that the map not only represents cities but also underserved and unserved regions. This boosts local economies and validates aviation as a window to the world beyond.
While the sector is attaining new heights with each passing day, it has also suffered turbulence and saw several doomsdays in the past two years. In a world where it was difficult to imagine a day without flying, we Saw airports, air spaces and borders getting shut down and fleets being grounded, thus disrupting the global supply chain, claiming millions of jobs and making civil aviation one of the worst hit sectors of the pandemic. But the sheer grit of the industry. Its stakeholders and the launch of some untested but novel strategies by the government enabled the industry to transform into an eco-system. It is an ecosystem built on the pillars of resilience, robustness and restart which slowly began to show green shoots of progress and triggered cautious optimism among investors, governments and regulators on future prospects, especially in a country with a strong domestic market such as India.
This has helped Indian aviation to not only scale-out but also scale deep, an evidence of which is the growing connectivity in the northeastern region of India. This part of the country which was for years described in terms of violence and low economic growth, only had nine airports till 2013-14. But the new and rationalized focus of the current government has given the region seven new airports in the last eight years, the latest one being the Donyi Polo Airport in Itanagar the first greenfield airport of Arunachal Pradesh. This revolution is having a pan-India impact: in December 2022, the domestic market saw 400.000-plus passengers every day for more than 10consecutive days, the highest being 428,000 passengers per day, thus paving a successful path to achieving pre-pandemic levels. These sprouting changes on the ground are braced by expedient policy changes of the government. The Drone Rules, 2021, has brought in newer innovation and technology to the skies. Today drones are delivering newspapers in south India, ensuring that medicines reach the hilly parts of Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh and allowing farmers to do cost-effective and safe farming. The New Flight Training Organizations (FTO) Policy and the New Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Policy are ensuring that the ecosystem witnesses holistic development and realize our collective vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat. A new airline, Akasa Air, took birth in India; the day is not far off when India will not only be a transshipment hub but also an aviation hub. Gujarat, two months back, saw the coming of India’s first private aircraft manufacturing unit for the production of C-295 planes, a move that is a milestone to propel the indigenous manufacturing potential of the nation. A major growth engine of India, civil aviation will drive India to become a $5 trillion economy by 2024. The recent refurbishment in the sector, including the launch of Digi-Yatra app(a seamless and time-saving way of processing passengers at airports), issuance of over 1000 commercial pilot licenses and a place in the top 50 countries of the world for safety mechanism by ICAO are not only helping the sector catch up with the growth trajectory faster but allowing exploitation of every opportunity and ensuring that many in India are able to take their first Udan.
“This article is written by Shri Jyotiraditya Scindia, Union Minister of Civil Aviation”