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BW Businessworld

Solar Plane Leaves India, Pilot Attacks Bureaucracy

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The solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse-2 on Thursday took off for Myanmar from Varanasi after an overnight stopover, ending its week-long journey in India as part of the round-the-world trip.
The aircraft took off at 5.22 am from Varanasi airport and is being flown by co-pilot and project president Bertrand Piccard.
It was in Varanasi for nearly 8 hours. The CEO and pilot of Solar Impulse, Andre Borschberg, flew the aircraft to Varanasi from Ahmedabad.
The plane touched down at Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport at Babatpur on Wednesday shortly after 8.30 pm, completing a 13-hour-long journey from Ahmedabad, where the plane and the crew had a week's stopover.
The aircraft maintained a minimum altitude of around 5,200 metres on its flight to Varanasi.
The plane reached Ahmedabad on March 10 from Muscat and was stationed for six days there before arriving in Varanasi. The aircraft began its journey on March 9 from Abu Dhabi.
Piccard on Wednesday launched an angry attack on Indian bureaucracy after a lengthy hold-up in Gujarat.
The Swiss pilot said the aircraft's take-off from Ahmedabad was delayed by five days because of tedious paperwork.
"The delay is (because of) administration, its papers, its stamps. I am not here to accuse anybody. I just say since five days we are trying to get over stamps (clearance) and everyday, it (authority concerned) says it's tomorrow, and every tomorrow it's again tomorrow and since five days we are desperate to get over stamps and now we still have stamps missing," Piccard said.
He had flown the plane from Muscat to Ahmedabad.
A senior airport official said that the customs and immigration departments failed to give clearance to the Solar-Impulse-2 team.
"There was an issue of Customs and Immigration. There is a rule of giving transport clearance to a foreign aircraft to sanction its take-off. However, in this case, customs failed to give the transport clearance," the official said.
"They (customs) were well aware what the Solar Impulse-2 is and also knew that it was supposed to take off from the city on March 13, its first scheduled departure," he added.
Solar Impulse is claimed to be the first aircraft to fly day and night without a drop of fuel, propelled solely by the sun's energy. The single-seater aircraft, made of carbon fibre, has a 72-meter wingspan, larger than that of Boeing-747 and weighs only 2,300 kg.
The 17,248 solar cells on the wing recharge four lithium polymer batteries weighing 633 kg each, which allow the aircraft to fly at night.
The team behind Solar Impulse 2 hopes to promote green energy with the circumnavigation attempt.
Ridiculed by the aviation industry when it was first unveiled, the venture has since been hailed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
Muscat was the first of 12 planned stops on the plane's journey around the world from Abu Dhabi, with a total flight time of around 25 days spread over five months.
Solar Impulse-2 is currently flying the fourth leg of its world tour.
The sea legs pose the greatest challenge for the Solar Impulse team as any loss of power over the water would leave the pilot no alternative but to bail out and await rescue by boat.
The longest single leg will see one of them fly solo non-stop for five days and nights across the Pacific from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii - a distance of 8,500 kilometres.