When Captain Arvind Sharma became the first person in India to get a microlight pilot’s licence several years ago, few people had heard of the planes and even fewer had flown them. However, since then, microlights (or ultralights or trikes as they are variously called) have become a popular form of entertainment and leisure for a crosssection of people. Entrepreneurs, ranging from a textile exporter in Tirupur to an oil exploration multi-millionaire in Mumbai, have all bought into this nascent, yet fast-expanding segment. Part of the draw of microlights is that they require lesser training to fly and, of course, the craft itself costs a fraction of buying even the smallest fixed-wing aircraft.What is a Microlight?
In India, a microlight is defined as a conventional two-seater plane, which weighs not less than 450 kg and is cleared for recreational flying and training by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.How to get started
Flying a microlight requires a separate licence called the PL(M) and it requires a minimum of 40 hours of flying and successful completion of one oral and three written multiple choice exams conducted by DGCA. In addition, candidates need to pass a medical test and undergo thorough police verification before they can get the green signal.
Bangalore Aerosports, which operates from the old airport in Mysore, has designed a 50-hour flying training programme to comply with the requirement of a minimum 40 hours of flying prescribed by DGCA. The training is conducted in three stages: dual instructional flying, solo flying and cross-country flying.Where to go for training
This is the slightly tricky bit. Due to security concerns and unavailability of supporting infrastructure, smaller towns such as Mysore, as well as smaller airfields such as Jakkur in Bangalore (and Tambaram in Chennai) are used for training. Delhi is off-limits due to security reasons and the Bombay Flying Club is shuttered, too, for a variety of reasons. There are just three or four licensed microlight trainers, although there are around 40 pilots in India.
So, here are a few places you could check out to earn your wings.Bangalore Aerosports
Hangar No. 2
Contact: 0821-4287319Agni Aviation
Hangar No. 2, Jakkur Aerodrome 12th Kilometre
080-28560060The cost factor
Earning your pilot’s licence (microlights) will cost you about Rs 4 lakh. Then, buying a microlight will set you back Rs 15-20 lakh. However, some places such as Bangalore Aerosports offer fractional ownership plans and pay-perride deals, too. Other centres such as Agni Aviation offer similar deals, so it may be a good idea to get a joyride first before signing on for a full training programme.
The right time to train
Given that most microlight wannabes are new to their planes and haven’t been at the controls of an aircraft earlier, instructors tend to be cautious with the weather. According to Capt. Arvind Sharma, who is also the Founder of Agni Aviation, October to March is climatically the best season to fly. In fact, Agni gets just a couple of fliers per day now, as winds and unseasonal rains make it dangerous to fly microlights.
Buying a microlight
Due to stringent regulatory requirements, the three manufacturers of microlights in India (and Indus Aviation, a speciality aircraft seller in Bangalore) will not sell you such a plane over-the-counter. “We won’t accept any payment from potential customers,” says Javad Hassan, Founder, Albatross Flying Systems, one of these plane makers, “They need to get a security clearance, which takes six-to-eight months,” he adds.
Flying notesAccording to experts, some of the first microlights began appearing as early as the 1900s (early aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont’s Oiseau de Proie or Flight of Prey, for example) and over the last century, went through at least three stages of evolution. While the Version 1.0 were essentially gliders with booster motors, second generation planes used two-axis controls (an aircraft has three axis of rotation: vertical, lateral, and longitudinal. Older planes had just vertical and lateral axis, so only two movements on the stick) and finally, around the mid-70s, the last evolution saw 3-axis controls and sturdier frames come into the market.
Despite the progress made in technology and manufacturing, the very definition of microlights remains open to interpretation—the US, Europe and India all have separate norms governing the licensing of microlight flights.
The buying process
Once you get a security clearance (to get a security clearance, you have to apply to the DGCA which then forwards it to the Home Ministry), you can approach one of the three manufacturers and buy a microlight. While there are literally dozens of options overseas (including one powered by new-age lithium-Ion batteries), in India, you’re restricted to allmetal planes and alloy frame and fabric craft.
There are three manufacturers you can contact:Albatross Flying Systems
No. 111/ 4, Kaveri Nagar Hormavu Agrahara Main Road Cross Horamavu P.O.
Hangar No. 2, Jakkur Aerodrome 12th Kilometre
Raja Hamsa Ultralights
No. 40, Goshala Road, Mahadevapura,
Besides the capital cost of the microlight, there is the cost of fuel (escalating, as always) and parking charges that need to be paid. According to Hassan, airstrips like Jakkur charge around Rs 200 per day to park a microlight, but an increasingly upmarket clientele is also parking its planes at private estates and farmhouses to avoid this fee.