Union minister for civil aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati flagged off the official practice of the Airport Authority of India (AAI) Paragliding World Cup 2015 at the take-off site, Billing, on Saturday even as the turning weather on the Dhauladhar range worried the organisers.
Wearing a festive look, about 130 pilots representing more than 35 countries arrived at Bir — the “paradise of paragliding” —, which will host the first mega aero-sport competition in South Asia.
Amid black clouds hovering over the valley, the pilots took to the skies amid cheers from the crowd that thronged Billing. However, the practice session was cut short due to the cold weather as there was not enough heat in the atmosphere for the pilots to gain height.
The meteorology department has forecast heavy rain in the area over the next two days, which may force the organisers to alter the calendar during the competitive stage beginning on Sunday.
“Moderate rain for two to three days is not a worry as the competitions can be held by changing the tasks given to the pilots,” the organisers said.
Meanwhile, Raju, while flagging off the pilots, praised the spirit of the organisers as well as the participants. “The picturesque setting of Bir-Billing provides a perfect backdrop for the biggest aero-sport event in the country,” the minister said.
Himachal Pradesh urban development minister and president of the Billing Paragliding Association (BPA), the main organiser, Sudhir Sharma, said he was thrilled to see months of meticulous preparations bearing fruit in the form of a world-class event.
The field, at the AAI Paragliding World Cup, is one of the strongest, with three of the world’s top four pilots, including France’s Julien Wirtz, who has been at the top of the world rankings for 20 of the last 25 months and is currently ranked three.
Besides, world number two Vidic Jurij (Slovenia), and world number four Torsten Siegel (Germany) are also participating. Another big name in the field is Frenchman Maxime Pinot, winner of the 2014 Super Cup in Turkey.
The Indian contingent in the competition comprises of Ajay Kumar, Gurpreet Dhindsa, Jyoti Thakur, Arvind Pal, Prakash Chand, Gautam Nath and Sanjay Kumar. They are expected to perform well taking into account their practice in the region as well as local support as five of the pilots belong to Himachal Pradesh.
The World Cup tours five to six venues every year and super finals are held at a venue selected by the Paragliding World Cup Association (PWCA), the international body regulating the sport.