Despite the government hype over promotion of aero sports in the state, the reality remains that flawed regulations have led to mushrooming of illegal operators of adventure sports like paragliding, endangering safety of the participants in the process.
After a recent accident in which a tourist from Mumbai was killed in a paraglider crash, the government imposed a blanket ban on tandem paraglider flights in Manali and the Billing valley, which is among the most ten paragliding sites in the world. However, those who are involved in the activity feel the ban was not a solution to the problem and the government should have first checked the norms that were in place.
"What could be a bigger joke than that the regulations on aero sports are just a copy of the river rafting rules and whosoever framed these norms didn't even bother to change the terminology. Aero sports and river rafting ate two completely different sports activities and can't be regulated by the same set of norms. In Himachal those flying machines like paragliders and hanggliders are referred to as 'air rafts'," said Gurpreet Singh Dhindsa, who is among the top ranking pilots in India and runs a paragliding training school in Bir in Kangra.
The rules further describe one involved in paragliding society, operator or a guide while in international regulations one who flies a paraglider is a pilot and levels have been defined from P1 to P5 based on experience, after which come trainee instructor, instructors, senior instructors sports tandem pilots and commercial pilots.
"Himachal aero sports rules don't talk about any of these, in fact they don't even mention what level a pilot has to be in his solo ranking before he flies tandem paragliders," said Dhindsa, adding the Himachal government was the only one in the world to give tandem certification straight without the pilot having solo certification first.
"Further, the local sub-divisional magistrate, who doesn't know the technical aspects of flying, issues the certificate without any evaluation of pilot by a technical committee or qualified instructor. According to international norms, to become a tandem paraglider pilot one should be a P4 pilot in addition to logging 100 hours of flying solo, a minimum of 60 km crosscountry flying in Himalayan conditions and proper tandem conversion course. Here the licences are given by non-technical persons and, whenever there is an accident, they simply shrug off their responsibility by saying the sport was banned," said Dhindsa.