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The flightless flight

Bahadur Chand Gupta Photo Cheryl Mukherji

Bahadur Chand Gupta Photo Cheryl Mukherji   | Photo Credit: CHERYL MUKHERJI

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Bahadur Chand Gupta’s Airbus A300 may be stationary but it gives wings to the imagination of many every day

There is a significant rise in the number of low cost carriers and reports suggest that India is expected to become the largest aviation market by 2030 but there is still a large section for whom air travel is part of the bucket list. It is beautifully captured in a film called Havai Dada, where a grandfather is nursing a dream of flying in an aircraft and his grand daughter wants to fulfil it. Anupam Kher told us that he was driven by his father’s fascination for air travel. “And when he did, he was excited like a child. He told me, Anupam there comes a time when the plane stops in the sky.” Well, Bahadur Chand Gupta, 58, provides a similar experience in Delhi’s Dwarka. The difference is his plane never takes off. A retired Indian Airlines (IA) flight engineer, Gupta is the proud owner of an Airbus A300. He has spent years restoring and maintaining the craft’s glory so that children and elders could get a feel of a plane for as cheap as Rs.50, without any hidden costs.

“I belong to a small village in Haryana and was the only engineer from my village. When I joined the IA people from my village wanted to see the aircraft from close quarters but due to security reasons that was impossible. That day I thought I should have something outside the security region and this project came into being,” explains Gupta. The chance came in 2003, when Gupta purchased a decommissioned aircraft and established Centre for Civil Aviation Training along with his wife Nirmal Jindal.

Bringing the aircraft to Dwarka was a challenge. “This is a huge aircraft with dimensions of 170 feet by 170 feet and weighing 80 tonnes. The roads leading to this place are very narrow with several wires running overhead. It was a difficult task and to overcome it the aircraft was dismantled into numerous pieces. From chairs to engine, everything was removed and was reassembled here under my supervision.”

On the day I visited the Centre, the place was full of young children from a nearby school who accompanied by their teachers sat in the stationary plane to enjoy their ‘in flight’ experience. There is much laughter and stomping by the tiny feet enjoying their time on the plane to nowhere. What makes it interesting is that despite the fact that the craft has one wing, no tail, no engines and is jammed on a solid edifice the enthusiasm of about 100-odd kids is palpable and during the entire visit never the decibel level remained consistent.

The fun is not limited to just the plane as Gupta package offer to the visitors includes adventure and learning. Halfway through the visit a break is scheduled when visitors are entertained with a magic show. In addition, the old and young alike are methodically briefed on safety measures followed on the plane, including seat-belt fastening, location of emergency exit doors, life jackets and oxygen masks among others. One could see many of the young ones slide down the emergency exits absolutely thrilled and amused. “Today it might be a fun activity but it mentally prepares them for an emergency they might face in future,” says Gupta.

Disaster management training procedures imparted to children is not limited to aircraft.

“We teach them how to cross the river, how to come out of the smoke area and fire area. After the Kedarnath incident, we started the trolley ride so that people know how to cross a river in case of floods,” says Gupta. The children having finished their sojourn on the stationary plane were now queuing up for a trolley ride.

Talking about her husband’s initiative, Nirmal Jindal, an associate professor in Delhi University comments, “A lot of people discouraged us. Many said that we will end up losing everything. My husband was undaunted against all odds and I supported him. I believe if one is determined anything is achievable.”

Besides bringing smile to the children, this couple is also involved in spreading awareness about many of the pressing problems faced by the society like HIV/AIDs, sanitation problems, smoking and drugs.

Well grounded

The open skies have indeed made air travel dream come true for a number of people, if not all. What with many vying for a share in the unlimited air space, passengers are benefited through cheaper and accessible air travel. This has surely has affected the footfall in Bahadur Chand Gupta’s Aero Planet which houses the Airbus A300. “Earlier they were many individuals visiting but now it is only school children whose visit is arranged by the institution,” says Gupta. This too brings its benefits in the sense that the visiting children impress upon their parents and family elders to enjoy what they did.

Besides making children happy, Gupta’s Centre for Civil Aviation Training is conducting a three-year course in aircraft maintenance engineering which is approved by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

The Aero Planet is open from 9.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. Monday to Saturday with entrance fee charged on the basis of the paying capacity of the visitor while for the economically weaker sections it is free. “The collections go towards the upkeep of the facility,” informs Gupta.

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Printable version | Aug 23, 2019 2:42:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-flightless-flight/article7707444.ece

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