With govt halting paragliding training, Bir Billing operators upset - Hindustan Times
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With govt halting paragliding training, Bir Billing operators upset

By, Dharamshala
May 05, 2024 10:28 PM IST

In April, a paragliding accident claimed the life of a 54-year-old woman in the high hills of Dhauladhar range

Nearly a month after a female pilot lost her life while paragliding in Bir-Billing, the tourism department of Kangra is contemplating implementing new measures and has temporarily halted training in the paragliding capital of India.

This decision has not been well-received by operators, who argued that it is unjustified and has also had a financial impact on them. (HT File)
This decision has not been well-received by operators, who argued that it is unjustified and has also had a financial impact on them. (HT File)

However, this decision has not been well-received by operators, who argued that it is unjustified and has also had a financial impact on them. They asserted that accidents are inherent risks in adventure sports and stressed the need for stricter regulations surrounding paragliding activities and training.

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In April, a paragliding accident claimed the life of a 54-year-old woman in the high hills of Dhauladhar range. She had taken off from Bir-Billing, flying and reportedly crash-landed near Thati village in Baijnath tehsil.

Bir-Billing, the world’s second highest paragliding site, is ranked among the top paragliding sites of the world and attracts thousands of paragliding enthusiasts from across the world every year. It is considered the best spot for learning paragliding due to its weather conditions. Bir valley offers great heights and the right amount of thermals for paragliders. Best time to learn paragliding is October to mid-December and mid-January to March.

In 2015, the first Paragliding World Cup was organised at Bir-Billing in which 40 well-trained pilots had participated. A Pre-World Cup Paragliding tournament was also organised last year.

Anurag Sharma, president of Bir-Billing Paragliding Association, said the speciality about this site is that cross-country pilots fly here and well-trained pilots of the world like to fly here. He said in adventure sports, accidents can happen.

“To stop the training is unjustified but yet the tourism department should tighten the norms for operators so that we get the best trained pilots. It is crucial that learners undergo training diligently, with their progress recorded digitally. These regulations must not remain mere words on paper; they need to be rigorously enforced on the ground. People from various parts of the country and abroad flock here to learn paragliding. Operators, as well as local businesses like hotels and restaurants, rely on this activity,” he stated.

“We even suggested to the tourism department that there are some patches where pilots lose height due to absence of thermals. So that the tourism department should map these patches, so that accidents can be avoided,” Sharma said.

The basic course of learning paragliding completes in 10 to 25 days which involves ground handling and theory. Operator trains around 10 students at a time. The intermediate course involves flying and then advanced course.

Jyoti Thakur, the technical expert of the Bir-Billing Paragliding Association (BPA), also emphasised that accidents occur in adventure sports and even sometimes faced by the foreign-trained pilots. “The tourism department should introduce norms and enforce them on the ground. Halting training is detrimental to businesses in Bir-Billing and is not conducive to our tourism prospects,” he said, highlighting the challenges faced by operators due to this decision.

Vinay Dhiman, tourism department deputy director, Kangra at Dharamshala, said training was discontinued for the time being and the tourism department is working on some new measures to be introduced for making paragliding safer. “We have constituted a six-member committee and a few new measures are being planned like the mapping of safe and unsafe areas depending on thermals. We are also planning that an orientation should be carried out for solo-pilots,” he said.

“We are also intending that solo flying should be registered through ‘Apna Kangra’ mobile application and so that we keep a check on paragliding,” he added.

Paragliding history in Bir-Billing

Bir-Billing, nestled in Kangra district, remained relatively unknown until the early 1980s when Neil Kinnear and Keith Nichols identified its potential for adventure aero sports, kick-starting hang-gliding with Billing as the take-off site.

In 1984, the Hang-Gliding World Cup put Bir-Billing on the map with the support of both state and Central governments, attracting 43 hang-gliding pilots from 13 countries.

Paragliding took off in Bir in the mid-1990s as flying enthusiasts recognized its suitability. Today, Bir-Billing stands as an internationally acclaimed paragliding destination, endorsed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), headquartered in France.

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