Grounded Airbus delights Indian children

NEW DELHI - Teenager Josman T. Jose fastens her seat belt, listens to the pilot’s instructions, is served lunch by an air hostess and two hours later jumps out the emergency door of an Airbus.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sat 27 Oct 2007, 4:57 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:30 PM

It is the first time the schoolgirl has seen an aircraft from inside and her excitement is palpable, even though the jet is in fact a decommissioned plane parked on a plot of land near New Delhi’s domestic airport.

‘It’s a great experience and will be very useful when I fly in future,’ she said of her time on the plane, which every week draws scores of schoolchildren and curious onlookers who have never seen a plane up close.

Of the 55 school girls who took a ‘flight,’ only three had ever flown before, despite a boom in air travel.

Industry experts say nearly 100 million Indians are likely to travel by plane this year—compared to less than 50 million in 2003-04 -- but still a small proportion in a country of 1.1 billion people.

‘Most people in India have not seen an aircraft. I have been flooded with requests,’ said the plane’s owner Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired aircraft engineer.

‘I was the first aircraft engineer in my village. Back in 1980, I was treated as if I were the prime minister by the village folks who all wanted to see a plane,’ Gupta said of his venture.

His company, Aeroplanet, now provides an on-the-ground in-flight experience to those who cannot afford to fly. The price is a mere 150 rupees (3.75 dollars) per head.

Gupta’s office staff double up as cabin crew, serving snacks and helping customers put on their oxygen masks, while the former engineer tells his audience about air pressure and aircraft speed.

‘It’s very informative,’ said 14-year-old Tanya Malhotra.

Gupta bought the plane—cut up into four pieces to make transportation easier—as scrap four years ago.

Two pieces of the hulk were joined, engine and expensive instruments removed, a smaller wing attached, and the original front landing gear replaced by a cement structure.

‘This is what we call an assembling job, Indian-style,’ said a beaming Gupta. ‘Nowhere in the world will you find something like this.’

The engine and other equipment is now housed at another facility, where Gupta runs an aviation school for aspiring pilots and aircraft engineers.

‘I even put together the emergency slide for 100 dollars only. It would take several thousand dollars to buy a new one.’

The former engineer launched the business three years ago after a deluge of requests by passers-by to board the aircraft.

Now he entertains schoolchildren three times a week, offering the facility free to charities who want to bring along poor children.

Weekend rides are also free for those who cannot afford to pay. Magic shows and dancers are thrown in for entertainment for larger bookings.

‘The guard has instructions to let anyone who wants to have a look come in. I can understand because I come from a small village myself,’ Gupta said.

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