At India’s biggest para-motoring event that concluded at Sivasagar in Assam last week, 16-year-old Puneite Rhine Menezes was recognised as the country’s youngest powered paraglider pilot. Acknowledging him as the best performer among the 25 participating pilots from across the country, the collector of Sivasagar declared him the youngest motored paraglider pilot in India.
And while the youngster continues to train enthusiasts on paragliding — giving lessons to people who are older than him — the restrictions in the city have made him decide that paragliding can only be a hobby and never a career in India. A student of St Patrick’s School, Rhine started paragliding at the age of 12 under the guidance of his father Eric Menezes, a well-known motored paragliding pilot and instructor.
A year later, he was trained on powered gliding. At the age of 15, he took to paramotoring, and started flying tandem — with passengers — six months later. Today, Rhine, a student of diploma in computer science, is already an instructor and has trained four-five students at places such as Assam, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. “Our institute Wings and Flights is the only training institute in the country and Rhine trains enthusiasts on the basics of flying, such as preliminary flights, circuits, take-offs and landings. If the weather is good, he even gives the control of the paraglider to the learners,” said Eric.
“He is also a demonstrator at a number of shows that are held every year across the country, for instance at the Vijay Diwas celebration that takes place at Karad, Yavatmal, Latur besides others.” Interestingly, the youngster — who was asked to demonstrate his flying abilities in his college recently — could not do so due to the restrictions on flying in Pune — thanks to the bureaucratic clearances required from the Air Traffic Control (ATC) as well as the police. No wonder then that he now wants to continue paragliding as a hobby and not as a career.
“If the Pune scene was lucrative, I would have loved to take up paragliding as a profession. But the police as well as ATC continue to look at paragliders as terrorists. It is not so in Europe or other places in the world. Looking at the hardships the community has been going through in the city, I have decided to continue hobby-flying while pursuing a career in computers,” Rhine said.
His experience stands substantiated by the fact that the police have till date not issued NoCs to the hobby-flying community around the city ever since they spotted unidentified flyers over Kamshet in 2012. “We were given NoCs by the police between mid-January to mid-February, but that was just for a month. The NoCs have expired and the ATC does not want to clear our flying now. The weather in Pune is excellent for flying, but not the atmosphere,” said Eric.