Bertrand Piccard, the pilot of world’s first solar-powered aircraft “Solar Impulse 2”, got the taste of red-tapism of India as his take-off from Ahmedabad was delayed due to “administration, papers, stamps”.
“Before having the stamp, you are nobody,” Piccard tweeted, as he was delayed by six hours due to pending immigration formalities, and his crew waited for him to join them in their flight to Varanasi to prepare for the arrival of the aircraft which flew out from Ahmedabad on Wednesday morning.
Piccard’s growing discontent with the red tape at the Ahmedabad airport was evident at a press briefing held hours before the solar aircraft flew out to Varanasi, where he said, “The delay is (because of) of administration, papers, stamps… When I arrived here with Solar Impulse, there were authorities, media and ceremony.
I was covered with garlands and shawls gifted by the people who received me and I missed immigration clearance. And now I am desperate to get the clearance for last five days.”
This was in stark contrast to his opening remarks at landing in Ahmedabad, “There is Gujarat inside Solar Impulse 2,” and called the state the “solar and innovation capital of the country”.
Piccard added that whenever he went for clearance, the authorities postponed it to the following day and predicted a delay for the aircraft and called it a “big mess”. Later on, piloted by Andre Borschberg, the SI2 faced delays for its scheduled take off to Varanasi which was pushed back from 5:30 am to 7:18 am in the morning owing to customs clearances.
However, the SI2’s crew, who was to depart for Varanasi at 9 am, waited for six hours until 3 pm for Piccard to join on, during which time, they soon began a series of tweets about the long wait for immigration stamp on Piccard’s passport from Solar Impulse’s official Twitter handle.
As many as 15 tweets and two re-tweets in two hours by the crew relayed the growing panic about how the delay in getting Piccard’s passport stamped could jeopardize the mission.
A source at the Ahmedabad airport said, “When the crew members landed at the airport, they didn’t clear the immigration and left the airport premises without even intimating the officers. This would have initiated a legal action against them had they not been state guests. It is mandatory for international crews or passengers to get immigration clearance before they step out of an airport. A couple of days back, the crew members came saying their passports needed to be stamped which took time.”
“When he (Piccard) came to India and was greeted with a function he missed getting an immigration stamp. Due to the function he did not come through the normal channels and wait in queue like other people and that was the reason his passport was not stamped. So he had to finish the formalities on the way and there was a delay,” said Omkar Jani, Principal Research Scientist for Solar Energy at GERMI, which is one of the nodal agencies designated by Gujarat Government apart from GEDA to coordinate events by the government.
After a warm welcome, it gets a cold farewell
While Gujarat Chief Secretary D J Pandian was present when the solar plane landed in the city, the aircraft got a cold farewell with no minister or state official having made it to the airport on Wednesday.
“While there were a few officials who were to make sure everything went well but no top bureaucrat was present at the time of the plane’s take-off. While the plane was initially set to take off at 5:30 am, it finally flew at around 7:15 am due to technical reasons.” Jani added.
The situation took political colours where tweets were relayed to Narendra Modi’s official Twitter handle. Corporate heavyweights like Kiran Mazumadar Shaw, Chief of Indian biotechnology company Biocon, also took the micro-blogging platform to vent their ire against the government’s red tape which was delaying the pilot.
As many as 22,000 people from Ahmedabad have witnessed the SI2 at the tarmac near Ahmedabad airport in the past eight days since the plane landed on March 10, which includes corporate sponsors of the SI2 project, schoolchildren, academic institutions and government functionaries.
The SI2 is on a five-month-long journey with stops in major cities, touching 12 countries around the world to promote clean renewable energy and clean technology. It had made its first take-off on March 8 from Abu Dhabi. After a brief stop in Muscat, SI2 landed in Ahmedabad on March 10.