Fancy a hot date in the sky? Just wait for a few months more. If the civil aviation department’s plans aren’t soap bubbles, you may soon be romancing the clouds.
A popular adrenaline surge worldwide, hot air ballooning is expected to buoy Jharkhand’s sagging tourism from the next fiscal.
Civil aviation secretary Sajal Chakraborty on Monday said his department had started inviting bids from balloon manufacturing companies and, initially, two variants would be procured to launch one of the planet’s oldest adventure sports in one of the country’s newest states.
“One balloon aircraft will have 1.5 lakh cubic feet capacity and will be propelled by two gas cylinders of 60 litres each; the other will be of 2.1 lakh cubic feet capacity with twin cylinders of 80 litres each,” he said.
On the price, Chakraborty said the cheaper variant might cost around 31,000 excluding taxes. “Actual expenses will be clear after the financial bids. The last date for submitting tenders is March 31. If all goes well, we intend to begin the programme from the next fiscal itself,” he added.
Last month’s fatal balloon accident in Egypt still fresh in mind, state civil aviation mandarins claimed they were going the whole hog to ensure safety of tourists coming to Jharkhand for the flight of fancy.
“For us, it is safety first. We are entertaining only those balloon manufacturers who are duly approved by the DGCA, and whose products meet flying parameters of an accredited testing agency,” Chakraborty said.
Hot air ballooning is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology. The balloon consists of a bag called the envelope (see diagram) that is capable of containing heated air. Suspended beneath is a wicker basket, which carries passengers, and the source of heat is usually an open flame.
The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside.
Being a light aircraft, it requires pilots with special skills. Civil aviation sources said a tie-up with the tourism department was on the anvil in this regard.
“A formal announcement will be made soon. So far, a few rounds of discussions have taken place on possible venues. Netarhat (Latehar), clear patches of Betla (Palamau) and Saranda (West Singhbhum), Morabadi (Ranchi) and Deogarh are being considered. Modalities from the security point of view are being discussed because Latehar, Palamau and Saranda are threatened by rebel activities,” said an official.
But, is such an elite sport feasible in a state reeling under political instability? Also, will the tourism department, which had promised fairytale projects like shikara rides and green tourism in the past, be able to sustain the facility?
Chakraborty, himself a trained pilot, sounded optimistic. “We have a determined objective to train local youths as pilots and ground crew for the programme. Besides, it is commercial recreation that will rake in revenue. Hot air ballooning is common at various fairs across India, but was never taken up as a sport because of dearth of pilot training facilities. We hope to fill in the gap,” he said.