Regional connectivity will bring development to tier-2 and tier-3 cities which are becoming "growth engines", Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while inaugurating the first flight under UDAN.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday inaugurated the first Shimla-New Delhi flight under a government scheme to boost regional air connectivity, saying that it would enable the common man to fly.
"I want to see people who wear 'Hawaii chappals' (rubber slippers) in a 'hawai jahaaz' (aircraft)," Modi said at the launch of the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), also called ‘Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN)’.
The flight is being operated by Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India. The airline has deployed its 42-seater ATR plane on this sector.
The prime minister also simultaneously flagged off RCS flights on the Kadapa-Hyderabad and Nanded-Hyderabad sectors through a video conference at the event in Shimla.
The prime minister announced that the next flight to take off under the scheme would operate on the Mumbai-Nanded sector.
Modi said earlier it was believed that air travel was meant only for the "Raja-Maharaja and elite class". Even the mascot of Air India was a maharaja, he said.
The prime minister recalled that he had raised this issue with Rajiv Pratap Rudy, civil aviation minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, and said cartoonist R K Laxman's Common Man should be the mascot of the airline.
Modi said better connectivity would help the country's youth who, given the opportunity, could change the "fate and picture" of India.
He said in the absence of any aviation policy in the last 70 years, a large number of air-strips constructed during the Second World War were lying idle.
These airports would be put to use under a policy formulated by the government and 30 such airports would start commercial operations, Modi said.
He said the air fare had been capped under the UDAN scheme and would cost less than taxi fare. Travel time would be cut down from hours to minutes, Modi said.
"The Delhi-Shimla flight is cheaper than a taxi ride. A taxi will take at least nine hours and is available for a fare of Rs 10 per km. A flight will now cost you Rs 6-7 per km on the same route and will also save you time," he said.
Advising airlines to start a circular route connecting Nanded Sahib, Amritsar Sahib and Patna Sahib, the prime minister said it would attract Sikhs from all over the world.
Regional connectivity will bring development to tier-2 and tier-3 cities which are becoming "growth engines", said the prime minister.
This will also enhance connectivity to the north-eastern region, he added.
"The scheme will also contribute to national integration. Different cultures and traditions will be able to intermingle," Modi said, voicing the slogan "Sab ude, sab jude (Everyone will fly and unite)."
Later, Modi laid the foundation of the Hydro Engineering College at Bilaspur, online.
He said the institute would help in providing specially trained manpower for the hydropower sector which has the potential of generating over 1.5 lakh MW of power.
Himachal Pradesh Governor Acharya Devvrat, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, Union Health Minister J P Nadda and Leader of the opposition in the HP assembly P K Dhumal received the prime minister, who was accompanied by Union ministers Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Jayant Sinha at the Jubberhatti airport.
With the UDAN scheme, the government aims at connecting 45 unserved and under-served airports and make flying affordable by capping fares at Rs 2500 per seat/hour.
Five airlines were awarded 128 routes under the scheme last month after a bidding process.