The world's only 'no-fuel' solar-powered aircraft 'Solar Impulse-2' landed in Varanasi on Wednesday evening. It took off from Ahmedabad after a two-hour delay yesterday morning. The plane and crew had a week's stopover in the city. It took little over 13 hours to reach Varanasi. This is the only stretch it flew in India on its world tour.
But the aircraft's flight to Varanasi ran into controversy. Swiss Ambassador to India Linus Von Castelmur said on Wednesday night that the Solar Impulse wanted to fly over the ghat and have a helicopter alongside to shoot images of it and the ghats but was denied permission due to security reasons. "We didn't get permits to have a helicopter flying over the airports and the ghats. It was the central government's decision. It's once again a pity but sometimes bureaucrats are not very open minded," the envoy told NDTV. The decision was reportedly taken by the the regulator Director General or Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Earlier, the delay in take-off from Ahmedabad was live-tweeted by the solar impulse team, which recorded its unhappiness with pilot and co-founder Bernard Piccard's struggle with customs and immigration clearance.
The team - which had to put off its departure from Ahmedabad twice due to bad weather since Sunday - tweeted appeals for help, pictures, pithy posts and even its version of John Lennon's 'Imagine' as Mr Piccard attempted to get necessary stamps on his passport this morning.
As Twitter overflowed with criticism of bureaucratic and government functioning in the country, sources in the Home Ministry said that Mr Piccard, who flew the solar plane into Ahmedabad from Muscat last week, had moved out of the airport area without getting immigration and customs clearances when he landed.
The government also pointed to what it calls its goodwill gesture of waiving Rs. 50 lakh in parking and airport charges for the plane for this extended stopover in Ahmedabad.
The single-seat plane, which was to leave Ahmedabad at 5.40 am on Wednesday, took off after 7 am, and was flown by a second pilot and co-founder Andre Borschberg, whose papers, sources said, were in order.
He was welcomed at the airport by an Army band and gifted a pink pagdi. Speaking to NDTV at the airport he said, "I came to Varanasi many years ago and was very fascinated. I wanted to come here because of its spiritual dimension which is part of what we are doing."