The Airports Authority of India (AAI) on Tuesday initiated the process of taking bids from airlines for various routes under the fourth round of bidding of its regional connectivity scheme UDAN.
The focus of this round would be mainly on connecting north-eastern states, hilly states, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and islands, a release said.
"Airports that have already been developed by AAI would be given higher priority for award of VGF (viability gap funding) under the scheme, followed by airports...located in priority areas...followed by airports located in areas other than priority area(s)," it said.
Under the UDAN scheme, financial incentives in terms of concessions from the Centre, state governments and airport operators are extended to selected airlines to encourage operations from unserved and undeserved airports, and keep airfares affordable.
As at least half of the seats in UDAN flights are offered at subsidised fares, and the participating carriers are provided a certain amount of VGF -- an amount shared between the Centre and the state concerned.
In Udan 4.0, the VGF has been enhanced for aircraft having more than 20 seats and that would operate in priority areas -- Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, northeastern states, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.
"The operation of helicopter and sea plane would be allowed under this round," the release said.
Till date, under the scheme, a total of 688 routes connecting 137 cities have been awarded to airlines.
"MoCA (Ministry of Civil Aviation) aims to operationalise 1,000 routes and more than 100 airports in the next five years. This would be achieved by focusing on operationalising routes in priority areas," it said.
On November 28, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told the Lok Sabha that flight operations have begun on 232 routes -- connecting 43 small cities -- out of total 688 routes awarded under UDAN scheme.
The Centre had launched the scheme on October 21, 2016, to stimulate regional air connectivity by making it affordable.