Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday flagged the first flights under the Centre’s regional connectivity scheme for civil aviation, also known as Udan – Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik. Three flights from Jubbarhatti on the outskirts of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, were launched.

Alliance Air, an Air India subsidiary, will operate these flights between Delhi and Shimla five times a week. “The demand is positive, and seats on the route are filling up fast,” Alliance Air Chief Executive Officer CS Subbhaih told Business Standard. A one-way ticket along this route costs Rs 1,920. Although the aircraft has 48 seats, restrictions allow only 35 to be filled en route to Shimla and 15 seats on the way to Delhi.

“The lives of the middle-class are being transformed and their aspirations are increasing,” Modi said at the event. “Earlier, aviation was considered the domain of a select few. That has changed now.”

The prime minister also hailed tier-II and tier-III cities as “growth engines”. “If aviation connectivity is enhanced in these places, it will be beneficial.”

Later in the day, Modi will launch two other flights under the Udan scheme. These will be along the Kadapa-Hyderabad and Nanded-Hyderabad routes and will be operated by TruJet. The minimum fare for a one-way ticket along these two routes is Rs 1,000.

With Udan, the Centre aims to link 70 unconnected towns at affordable fares. Under the scheme, an airline has to sell 50% of the seats in a flight at subsidised fares. This means half the tickets will be available for under Rs 2,500 for flights less than 500 km in distance and an hour long. The remaining tickets can be sold at market rates. Apart from Alliance Air and TruJet, SpiceJet, Air Odisha and Air Deccan were selected to offer services along these routes.

The Civil Aviation Ministry had said that the routes were assigned to airlines on the basis of the extent of the viability gap funding they demanded. VGF is a government grant provided to support projects that are economically justified but not financially feasible. This was launched in 2004 to support projects under public-private partnerships. However, Alliance Air said it has yet to get a response from the Himachal Pradesh government on the VGF of Rs 1.4 lakh per return flight, according to Business Standard.

Udan was introduced in October last year as part of the National Civil Aviation Policy, 2016. The scheme provides a unique opportunity to take flying to the masses by way of fiscal incentives, infrastructure support, procedural simplifications and monetary subsidies.