After three successful rounds of bidding, where 688 routes have been awarded, the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) launched the fourth round of its Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) - also known as Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) on December 3.

The scheme's aim is to further enhance the connectivity to remote and regional areas of the country, with the fourth round to focus on priority areas like India's Northeast Region (NER - which comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura), the Hilly States (which includes the aforementioned eight states plus Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal), Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh (which is part of Kashmir) and India's islands (of which there are around 1,200, but most are without airfields or airports).

In this fourth round, the MoCA has enhanced its Viability Gap Funding (VGF) for Category 2/3 aircraft (more than 20 seats) for operation of RCS flights in priority areas of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, NER, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar. In order to further incentivise the use of small aircraft under RCS, the VGF cap applicable for various sector lengths for operation through Category 1/1 aircraft (less than 20 seats) has also been revised.

The MoCA is keen to promote short-haul routes, as the provision of VGF is restricted to routes of less than 324 nautical miles (600 kilometres) for operation by Category 2/3 aircraft. Beyond that distance, no financial support would be provided. The table for the provision of VGF for various stage lengths would be available for stage length up to 270 nautical miles (500 kilometres).

Airports are to be prioritised into three levels, with those developed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) allocated the highest priority, then airports located in the priority areas, followed by airports located outside the priority areas.

Operators will also have flexibility to alter frequency on the services during the route's tenure, as long as the total scheduled flight operation submitted as part of the Technical Proposal, is adhered to within a period of one year. Operators can also include the use of helicopters and seaplanes as part of the fourth scheme.

The due date for the submission of initial proposals for UDAN 4 from operators is January 9, 2020. The date of declaration of the selected airline operators is January 31, 2020.

In the last three years, the MoCA has awarded 56 routes in UDAN 1, of which 54 have received service; in UDAN 2 those figures were 297 and 104, and in UDAN 3 (including 3.1) 335 routes were awarded of which 74 have so far made it to full operations. Many of the awarded routes yet to see flights are expected to come online during the current Winter 2019 season.

The ministry aims to gain operations on 1,000 routes to more than 100 airports over the next five years as part of its ongoing RCS and dramatically improve access to some of India's remotest communities.