When Benjamin Augustus Dodd wanted to learn flying, he first had to persuade his parents to let him take an uncharted path, that too an expensive hobby. This was three years ago, when he just finished his schooling.
“Though flying was a passion in my family for three generations, it was a foreign idea,” says Rodney, his elder brother, who was able to pursue his passion only after acquiring a degree in Biomedical Engineering.
Earlier this year, the brothers took turns to fly their parents on Pipistrel, the latest generation Light Sport Trainer Aircraft (LSA) over the airfields and the rolling countryside around Christchurch in New Zealand. It was a beautiful moment for the entire family. “We made a wonderful memory together though we had to slog to achieve our dream of conquering the skies,” says Rodney.
A State tennis player-turned consultant and mentor, 28-year-old Rodney has rolled his love for sports, travel and flying into one to help others with opportunities to experience what they might be just dreaming about. In 2013, he established Tie-Upp, a global sports/education networking organisation to identify and nurture talent through its Train-Gain-Shine (TGS) initiative. Under this Tie-Upp Aviation was launched as a company in 2017 to make the process of flying simple, accessible and affordable to people awed by aviation.
They were in Madurai last month offering an aviation camp to interested students. They visited schools to explain how children can now assess their aptitude before joining a professional flying school.
A family holiday in New Zealand in 2011 sparked the idea in the brothers. They wanted to fly high. “I loved the idea of getting away on a fast mode of transportation,” says 21-year-old Benjamin who earned his flying instructor and pilot’s license two years ago.
Impressed by the Rangiora airfield, five kilometres north of Christchurch with 90 private hangars and 200 aircrafts of different types and sizes parked at any given time, the duo rented out a hangar and made it their home. Initially, they flew the Italian Tecnam to give a hands-on experience in flying to locals and tourists.
“In New Zealand, flying is a hobby as common taking dance classes,” says Benjamin, “And the Rangiora air field is always buzzing with amateurs and professionals.” Inspired by the enthusiasm of people who come for weekend joy rides, honeymoon rides, and to learn flying, the brothers started their own aviation packages as part of promoting New Zealand tourism. And in doing so, they created a record too by inducting the first LSA registered Pipistrel Alpha trainer in New Zealand’s aviation history on August 15 last year.
The Slovenia built single engine two-seater aircraft has stickers from Madurai on it and the boys are elated for getting the TGS registration number matching with the name of their initiative. For the past eight months, the brothers have been using their aircraft for recreational and professional flying. “It has been an amazing journey,” says Rodney. During the period, Benjamin has taken various people, including a 13-year-old boy and a 92-year-old trained pilot into the skies. “If you can reach, the controls you are allowed to fly,” he says and shares the excitement of the teenager whose parents thought he would be scared to fly. “But he discovered the joy in learning to fly and now perhaps dreams of becoming a pilot,” he adds.
Rodney says that abroad, the recreation forms the backbone of pilot training while commercial pilots are developed as super specialists in aerial photography, agri-spraying, emergency and ambulance services, fire fighting, space research. There are more than 15 categories of pilot training and services opening up as many job opportunities.
But India, with four percent of all commercial pilots and 14 percent of women pilots in the world, lacks in such a structured system. The brothers now want to make flying with the safest technology affordable and accessible to more people.
“Pilot training is prohibitively expensive for most and there is no guarantee of securing a job even after getting the license,” says Rodney. “While education fairs promise classy lifestyles after pilot training, many candidates fail in airlines interviews or have to wait for years to get a pilot’s job,” he adds. The brothers have designed a special programme for Indian students. “We are focussing on the right initiation because you can’t think and fly. You have to first think and then fly,” says Benjamin.
The Indian Government has also signed a contract for same LSA Pipistrel aircraft with a Slovenian firm. The 194 aircraft are to be used by the Indian Air Force, the Navy and the NCC.
In the LSA Pipistrel, one can be trained for Private, Commercial and Multi-crew Pilot’s License.
Depending on the duration of training sessions or joy rides taken, the packages start from 80 NZ dollars per hour.
LSAs can go up to 18,000 feet but pilots rarely cross 10,000 feet. To see nature in full glory flying at 2,500 to 7,000 feet is considered ideal.
FLY TO DREAM
The aviation programme designed by the Dodd brother includes theory classes to understand the mechanisms of various aircraft and the fundamental skills and challenges of flying, followed by an online basic pilot aptitude test and medical screening.
If a student has the attitude and aptitude and is willing, they can enrol with TIE-UPP Aviation for two weeks of practical training on the Pipistrel in New Zealand.
Their flying hours will go into their Aviation log book.
The initiation course costs ₹300,000.
BUCKET LIST EXPERIENCE
Vichithra Raja Singh, the CEO of Bell group of Hotels and Puppy’s Bakery, Sivakasi, is the first Indian woman who took a week’s training with flight instructor Benjamin in March 2018.
“I went as a tourist for an hour of recreational flying and did not find it as difficult as I had imagined it to be. We flew at 2,500 feet and it was exhilarating. Looking down from the cockpit is an overwhelming sensation as the sky gets bigger,” she says.
Vichithra then decided to go for a week’s training. “Learning to fly yourself is an irresistible attraction and when the instructor gives you the controls, you are hooked to it. The first two or three sorties are packed with information and you figure out all about ascend, descend and steep turns. I logged in five hours and to return to get a license is on my bucket list now,” she adds.