I’m boarding an Airbus A-300 in Delhi. The plane’s destination is Mumbai, but with only one wing and a third of the fuselage missing, I know this flight will not take off. Captain Gupta’s bought the Airbus from Indian Airlines in 2003 then spent many years re-assembling it in his garden which is about 5 miles from Delhi International Airport. Captain Gupta, an ex airline engineer, has a passion for aeroplanes and wants to share this with as many people as possible.
Despite the fact that the domestic Indian airline industry has boomed in the last few years, it is worth remembering the great majority of India’s population- 96%- has never flown, nor stepped inside an aeroplane. Captain Gupta’s mission is to give Indians a chance to experience the inside of a plane and to learn a little about how aircraft operate.
The day I visit, a group of very excited young children is lining up ready to board, accompanied by keen helpers.
After boarding the aircraft, they watch the safety routine conducted by the chief air hostess, Mrs Gupta, who is also a professor of International Studies at Delhi University, but doubles up in this role, whenever she can. Two other hostesses are also on duty.
Boarding passes are inspected as the kids enter the plane, and it is explained how essential these are in ensuring the right person boards the right flight. The doors are shut. Seat belts are firmly fastened. The safety briefing is very familiar: oxygen masks and the emergency lifebelts are demonstrated. The children are asked the names of various items and they shout these out with great relish. Then refreshment trolleys are pushed up the aisle and everyone is served with biscuits and toffees.
Then some music is played over the intercom and some of the kids are encouraged to get up and start dancing around the aisle. Quite what this has to do with flying is beyond me, but everyone is having a great time. Groups of five or so kids at a time are then invited into the cockpit and Mrs Gupta explains that although trains and buses have one driver, a plane has three: the pilot, the co-pilot and the auto-pilot.
The climax to the visit involves sliding down the emergency chute. This resembles a fairground ride, and goes down very well with the children. Snacks and drinks are then served, and they all sit down and watch a few videos. I imagine that this party of children will never forget this day out, and Captain Gupta has converted another fifty people on his mission to educate the public and to de-mystify the business of flying.