‘Threat’ from the sky: ATS eye on paragliding centres

Sources said that the possibility of terror suspects using paragliders for aerial survey of sensitive locations or attacking them cannot be ruled out.

Written by Sushant Kulkarni , Chandan Shantaram Haygunde | Pune | Published:May 5, 2015 2:18 am
anti-terrorism squad, Pune anti-terrorism squad,  paragliding clubs, paragliding training schools, private paragliding schools, aerial terror threats, terrorism threats, terror suspects, pune news, Maharashtra news Paragliders manoeuvring over the skies near Kamshet tunnel on Mumbai-Pune highway. (Source: IE photo by Arul Horizon)

The Pune unit of the state anti-terrorism squad (ATS) has its eyes on the sky and on paragliding clubs and paragliding training schools in its jurisdiction—Satara, Kolhapur, Sangli, Solapur and Pune district, including Pune city—to collate information. The ATS, besides intelligence agencies and the Indian Air Force (IAF) have been keeping a close watch on activities at private paragliding schools and participants of the aero-sports.

Likely “aerial” terror threats from paragliders have been the subject of discussions in the past. There have been “spotting” of gliders over restricted areas in the city. Sources said that the possibility of terror suspects using paragliders for aerial survey of sensitive locations or attacking them cannot be ruled out. Hence, as a precautionary measure, the Pune ATS has been contacting paragliding centres in its jurisdiction for details of their staff and fliers, particularly foreign nationals, and collate other information at frequent intervals.

There are at least three registered paragaliding centres in Pune district, besides around five smaller clubs.

It may be recalled that the IAF had spotted some unidentified gliders flying over restricted areas in the city in 2012. According to an IAF statement, unidentified glider-like objects were spotted over Pune on June 29 and June 30, 2012. The IAF statement stated, “Similar incidents of sighting of powered paragliders were informed by a helicopter pilot flying to Baramati on December 9, 2012. Another helicopter flying from Alibagh to Arki (in Baner) on December 25, 2012 also reported the sighting of 5 to 6 paragliders in restricted airspace.” IAF had then informed the local police and intelligence agencies about these alleged unauthorised flying activities and requested them to investigate the matter and take necessary action.

When contacted, Manoj Roy, president of the Paragliding Association of India (PAI) said, “Various paragliding clubs and paragliding schools are affiliated to us and we keep an up-to-date record of every flier who trains or flies with them. Everyone who participates in the paragliding activity has to fill up a detailed form, and submit an identity proof along with two photographs. Foreigners have to submit a copy of their passport and visa.”

He added, “Right now, we do not have a centralised system to collect data from paragliding schools or clubs. But we are working towards putting such a system in place. A couple of years ago, in a meeting of paragliding clubs, city and rural police and Air Force authorities some issues about co-ordination were discussed. We are ready to co-operate with any agency looking into security aspects.”

As per rules, every flier needs permission of the local Air Traffic Controller for flying. Sources with the IAF said that Pune’s Air Traffic Control unit, operated by the IAF, had written letters to individual paragliding schools and clubs to route permission for paragliding flights through the Paragliding Association. The letter also listed a set of guidelines for individual fliers and clubs.

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