New Delhi: The first regional flights subsidized by a new fund are expected to take off after January, breathing life—if all goes well—into some two dozen ‘ghost airports.’

The aviation ministry is trying to encourage airlines to fly to unconnected smaller towns by levying a cess on their existing flights.

“The flights will be awarded by January," civil aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey told a press conference on Friday to announce a regional civil aviation policy.

The ministry said the policy is its contribution to Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s vision of taking air transport to the masses and coined a new word to describe the mission: UDAN or Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik (Let the common citizen fly).

The UDAN logo also unusually sported a four-engine plane—typically considered a fuel guzzler and used for long-haul flights, rather than for regional connectivity.

The aviation ministry said it will take another look at the logo.

Starting this week air operators can start sending proposals to operate under-served or unserved routes which will be awarded after they are vetted and opened for counter-bids by other operators.

The successful bidder would have exclusive rights to operate the route for a period of three years with fares capped at 2,500 for a one-hour flight.

“We are cautiously optimistic about it," aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju said of UDAN. “You can have non-functional airports but you can’t have non-functional airlines."

India has over two dozen ghost airports on which millions of rupees have been spent but which do not host any flights. Some are gradually going live as airlines expand.

Choubey said the government plans to spend Rs4,000 crore over the next four years to upgrade more airports.

The ministry did not disclose the levy it plans to charge on existing tickets, keeping that announcement for after Diwali, which falls on 30 October.

The levy will make existing flights marginally expensive.

Choubey who has been spearheading the policy said the levy will be “very small" and dismissed fears by older airlines that it will be a burden. He said in the long run it will help them as more passengers come into the national network.

India hasn’t had a successful run with regional airlines. Unlike in the West, regional flights here are run by national airlines, which leaves little room for stand-alone regional players to emerge and grow.

Regional airlines that have stopped operations in the past decade include Religare Voyages Ltd, run Air Mantra, MDLR Airlines, ZAV Airways, Jagson Airlines and Paramount Airways.

Air Pegasus, another regional airline, stopped operations two months back.

What will happen to the fund if regional policy fails? “At the time of marriage," minister Raju replied, “You don’t think of divorce."

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