NEW DELHI : The Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government has launched the fourth round of the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) meant to stimulate air connectivity in an affordable way, which is a part of its plan to operationalize over 100 airports in smaller towns and cities over the next five years.

The focus of the fourth round of RCS will be bringing connectivity to priority areas like North East India, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, hilly states in others parts of the country, and islands, the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) said in a statement on Tuesday.

Under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), also known as UDAN or Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik, airlines compete to win subsidies for operating flights linking small airports with bigger ones. The scheme, launched in October 2017, is now in its fourth phase.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation said in the statement that it has enhanced the Viability Gap Funding (VGF) provision for category 2/3 aircraft (more than 20 seaters) for operations in priority areas like Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, North East India, Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

"The VGF cap applicable for various stage lengths for operation through category 1 / 1 A aircraft (aircraft with less than 20 seats) has also been revised to further incentivize the operation of small aircraft under the Scheme," the ministry said in the statement.

"The operation of helicopter and sea plane would be allowed under this round," it added.

At present, only 232 routes across 43 cities and towns of the 688 routes awarded to connect 137 small cities under the RCS scheme remains operational.

The government is also promoting short-haul routes under the latest bidding round of the scheme.

The provision of VGF would be restricted for routes with stage length up to 600 kms, for operation of aircraft with more than 20 seats, beyond it no monetary support would be provided, the ministry of civil aviation said in the statement.

It added that the government is making efforts to develop airports and operationalize the routes that were auctioned during the previous rounds of RCS scheme but has since then remain un-operational.

"Many of these routes will be operationalized during the winter schedule 2019," it added.

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