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India’s government has not always met with universal praise when setting air transportation policies, but the rationale behind prime minister Narendra Modi’s Regional Connectivity Scheme – dubbed Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN), or “let the common man fly”– is hard to fault.
UDAN aims to ensure that the economic benefits of India’s rapid aviation growth are spread equally between all regions, instead of orbiting around wealthy metropolitan areas. The subsidised scheme gives airlines incentives for launching thin routes with regional aircraft, as well as limiting the maximum fare paid by many passengers.
“Aviation cannot be about rich people,” Modi said during a speech in the Gujarati town of Chotila last month. “We have made aviation affordable and within reach of the lesser privileged.”
For low-cost carriers like SpiceJet, engaging with UDAN is as much a commercial necessity as a social obligation. India’s fourth-largest airline has a target of deploying 200 aircraft by 2024 – up from 54 today – amid a scramble for market share in one of the world’s hottest airline sectors, where domestic traffic is growing by 21% a year and 97% of the population still does not fly...