Specttrum News: The AAI Paragliding World Cup got underway with the Union Minister of Civil Aviation, Mr. P Gajapati Raju, flagging off the pilots from the Billing launch site for the official practice at Bir Billing in Himachal Pradesh on Saturday.


Despite slightly overcast conditions, the pilots took to the skies amidst cheers of encouragement from the crowd that thronged Billing since early morning.    


With most of the 130 pilots representing more than 35 countries taking part in the AAI Paragliding World Cup arriving at Bir, the mecca of aero-sport in the country wore a festive look.


Before flagging off, the minister had words of praise for the organisers and the participants. “The picturesque setting of Bir Billing provides a perfect backdrop for the biggest aero sport event in the country. It’s heartening to see such enthusiastic participation and I am sure both the organisers and participants will do their best to preserve the beauty of the place. I also congratulate the state government for their wholehearted support for the AAI Paragliding World Cup,” said P Gajapati Raju.


The AAI Paragliding World Cup is easily the biggest sporting event in terms of international participation and the number of sportspersons. With Aero Sports being extremely popular in these parts, Bir Billing is buzzing with excitement in anticipation on seeing the best pilots from around the world and India in action. 


At the organisational level, the organisers of the event, Billing Paragliding Association, and title sponsor, Airports Authority of India, have left no stone unturned to deliver a classy event.


“We are thrilled to see months of preparations and hard work has enabled us to put together a world-class event. Seeing the turnout of people today for the official practice, we can confidently say that the AAI Paragliding World Cup will take the sport to the next level,” said Mr. Sudhir Sharma, President Billing Paragliding Association and also Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Himachal Pradesh


The Airports Authority of India has provided unstinted in bringing this premier paragliding event to the country. “We are extremely pleased to be associated with the Paragliding World Cup. For the Airports Authority of India, this event provides a percent fit. With increasingly more number of youngsters taking to adventure sport, we see a great opportunity to take paragliding to the next level,” said R.K Srivastava, Chairman Airports Authority of India.


For the first time GAGAN  (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation is an India SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) Programme jointly developed by India Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Airports Authority of India will be used for live tracking of the pilots.  AAI is providing the pilots with GAGAN signals for accurate navigation and tracking facility. For the first time GAGAN enabled Accord receivers have been put to use in the Indian airspace.


Mr. Rajesh Srivastava, Sr. Vice President of BPA, has been the driving force in organising this aero sports extravaganza. “A lot of work has gone into this event and it will continue till the very end. Seeing the response of the people and participants gives us immense pleasure. A lot of hard work has gone into making this event a grand success.”


He added, “Our safety systems and other technical aspects are all in place for the week-long event. I am confident that this event will give a massive boost to the sport in the country.”


The field at the AAI Paragliding World Cup is one of the strongest on the Tour. With three of the world’s top four, including one of the all-time greats, Julien Wirtz of France, who has been No. 1 in the world for 20 of the last 25 months. He is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, one behind Vidic Jurij of Slovenia, who unseated Wirtz from No. 1 in spot in July before losing it himself.


Vidic Jurij (Slovenia), Julien Wirtz (France) and Torsten Siegel (Germany) hold the spots from second to fourth in the world and also in Europe. Another big name in the field is Frenchman Maxime Pinot, winner of the 2014 Super Cup in Turkey, who is now No. 8 in the latest world rankings.


The Indian challenge will be led by Ajay Kumar, who is the country’s one of the most experienced pilots. The Indian contingent comprising Ajay Kumar, Gurpreet Dhindsa, Jyoti Thakur, Arvind Pal, Prakash Chand, Gautam Nath and Sanjay Kumar is expected to perform well given that they enjoy the advantage of knowing the local conditions and have practiced in the region. The Indian team will enjoy a strong local support because five pilots belong to Himachal Pradesh.    


A glittering cultural programme and lighting of the ceremonial lamp by the Union Minister of Civil Aviation, Mr. P Gajapati Raju along with other dignitaries at the world-famous Sherabling Monastery last night marked the official opening of the event.