“Reign in the Skies, foot on the ground”


Usha Padhee, the first woman Director General of Bureau of Civil Aviation Security.

Usha Padhee, an Odisha-cadre IAS officer, has taken the country’s aviation sector to enviable highs. She is the go-getter officer instrumental in operationalizing the UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik) scheme aimed at bolstering regional air connectivity. The opening up of regional airports connecting the mainstream urban centres with the remote hinterland has not just amplified the local economy but given aspirational wings to the aam aadmi and the first-time flyers. Credit for making aviation sustainable and profitable goes to Ms Padhee.

Padhee is an outstanding public servant whose performance speaks volubly about her body of work. In April 2022, she was conferred the much-acclaimed Prime Minister Award for Excellence in Public Administration-2020 at the 15th Civil Services Day held on April 20 in New Delhi .

Since 2016, when the Government of India launched the UDAN scheme, air connectivity has been provided on 419 routes by the Civil Aviation Ministry. UDAN has benefited around 92 lakh people so far. According to Padhee, 100 new airports will be built under the UDAN scheme and 1,000 new routes will be opened by 2024. She feels that aviation and tourism are complimenting sectors, and air connectivity needs to be in tandem with what the tourism sector is doing,

Recently, Padhee delivered a presentation on “Krishi UDAN 2.0 Evaluation,” highlighting the program’s achievements, scope, impact on agriculture, and future prospects. The scheme’s performance in relation to various airports was also discussed. It was also announced that five new airports, Belagavi, Jharsuguda, Jabalpur, Darbhanga, and Bhopal, would be added to the existing 53 Krishi UDAN airports. This would result in 58 airports actively participating in Krishi UDAN.

In August 2020, Krishi UDAN Scheme 1.0 was launched on international and national routes to assist farmers in transporting agricultural products to improve value realisation. Krishi UDAN 2.0, which was announced on September 27, 2021, will focus on transporting perishable food products from hilly areas, north-eastern states, and tribal areas, further improving the scheme.

She strongly feels the need to develop India’s low-traffic airports.

“Remote airports cater to cities and towns with a catchment area of around one to two million people. These small airports can be categorised as Low Traffic Airports (LTA), with less than one million passengers per year. Many of these airports would be under the ownership of states that may not have the expertise and resources to develop and manage them. In the initial stages, traffic at LTAs would be via regional aircraft. Considering the conventional revenue sources of airports — aeronautical services, airport services, and passenger service fees and revenue — could be around Rs 1-2 crore per annum. However, given the regulatory compliances and service requirements, the cost for operating and maintaining an airport would be around Rs 7-14 crore”, she said in an authored column.

In the light of the Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 approaching fast, the Odisha government has prepared a timeline to operationalize SAIL’s Rourkela airport after discussions with the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA). Padhee has held talks with top officials of SAIL in Delhi followed by another meeting with top Odisha government officials.

A member of the NITI Aayog team responsible for the identified aspirational district of Koraput, Padhee expressed satisfaction with the district administration’s performance in the areas of education, health, agriculture, coffee cultivation, livelihood, and women empowerment. Having conducted a review meeting, Padhee said the district’s needs would be raised with NITI Aayog. It was a homecoming for Ms Padhee as she had served as the Koraput collector.

Padhee also holds additional charge as director-general of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). She is the first woman and third IAS officer to have been appointed to the post. The BCAS, under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, is the security regulator for the civil aviation industry in India.

According to her, the Union Budget 2022-23 aims to encourage private participation in infrastructure development, along with public capital. This is exemplified in the focus on the PM Gati Shakti programme, an integrated approach towards building infrastructure for economic growth and sustainable development.

Padhee can be refreshingly innovative when it comes to promoting tourism. In a letter to all Indian airlines and airports, she broached the idea of playing Indian music in the aircraft being operated in India and at airports following the regulatory requisites.

“India has a rich diversity of traditional music. Owing to India’s vastness and diversity, Indian music encompasses numerous genres in multiple varieties and forms, which include classical music, folk, light vocal, instrumental music, etc, it has a history spanning several millennia and developed over several geo-locations spanning the sub-continent. Music in India began as an integral part of the socio-religious life”, she wrote.

Music played in the skies for transforming outcomes on the ground, the country needs more of such out-of-the-box solutions and officers of Padhee’s.

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