Have you touched the face of God?

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Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God
-   John Gillespie Maggie (‘High Flight’)

Who doesn’t want to fly? To run on land is fine, but to soar amidst wispy clouds and bright bits of firmament would be quite something else. Once, before the advent of aeroplanes, men and women devised methods to fly that we might laugh at today. They tried to strap on wings to their arms and imitate birds, they built hot air balloons that blew wherever the wind desired and in Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, they even threw themselves at the ground, in the hope that they’d soar into the enchanting sky! John Maggie died at the tender age of 19 as a result of a mid-air collision. But his passionate words continue to inspire flyers till date.

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It took a long time indeed to get to where we are today and we have many enterprising innovators to thank. We have English baronets and the Wright brothers to pay tribute to, even as we enjoy the plethora of flight options we have today. It’s nothing short of a modern-day marvel – the idea that one can traverse 6112 km between Delhi and Frankfurt in merely eight hours and twenty minutes, via the new Lufthansa A380 aircraft #LufthansaA380 (http://a380.lufthansa.com/TAKEPART/#/DE/EN/home). That’s less than an overnight bus ride from Pune to Hyderabad! We’ve really come a long way.

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Visit the airport today and the sheer number of carriers is mind-boggling. Time was when the Indian airspace was solely dominated by Indian Airlines and Air India – government-owned airlines. Today, we have a multitude of Indian and international players providing an enviable cocktail of flight options to highfliers. When I began my first full-time job at a business news channel, I was asked to identify industries that I was interested in. My first choice was aviation. There seemed to be something in the news every day, about this dynamic industry! And that was the year in which I’d taken my first solo flight, all starry-eyed and expectant. I was amazed at the ease with which I floated from Mumbai to Cochin airport. I kept reading about the problems some airlines were facing, the price wars among others, the entry and exit of top honchos and the introduction of hitherto unheard of airlines!

Here are a few statistics to put things in perspective:
·         India is the world’s ninth largest civil aviation market;
·         The Indian civil aviation industry is worth around US$ 16 billion;
·         The Indian aviation industry handles 2.5 billion passengers and has over 87 airlines flying to and from India;
·         The foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows in air transport during April 2000 to July 2014 stood at Rs 2,348 crore (US$ 383.63 million), as per data released by Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP);
·         The total aircraft movements and passengers have registered a compound annual growth rate of 3.3 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively during FY11 to FY14.

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And now, the latest development in the world of aviation is the launch of Lufthansa’s jumbo A380 #LufthansaA380, with a mind-boggling capacity of 520 passengers in India. The aircraft will fly privileged passengers from New Delhi to Frankfurt every day. The mention of Frankfurt reminds me of my favourite cartoon Heidi, which I have been watching all over again, since the past couple weeks. Heidi is the story of a Swiss girl, who has to leave her home in the Alps to be a companion to a wheelchair-bound young girl in the city of Frankfurt. Now the Lufthansa A380 is the largest commercial aircraft in history and it’s fitting that it will be flying to a majestic destination like Frankfurt.

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Frankfurt has the distinction of being one of the few cities in the European Union to have a Manhattan-like skyline thanks to its numerous skyscrapers and high-rise buildings. Germany’s business capital is bound to have a vibrant cultural scene and for art lovers, it is nothing short of paradise. The stunning city is home to St├Ądel Institute of Art with the Municipal Gallery, the Museum of Applied Art and the Schirn Kunsthalle gallery. Those who enjoy immersing themselves in nature will be wowed by the parks, forests and bits of unspoilt wilderness in the Frankfurt Rhein-Main-Area. And here is a behind the scenes look at the most efficient and comfortable way to get there (https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=1010481858977855&set=vb.139211742771542&type=2&theater):

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The first commercial flight took place between St. Petersburg and Tampa and covered just 21 miles of bay waters. The flight took 23 minutes and was piloted by Tony Jannus and his one paying passenger. The plane was a Benoist XIV with a seating capacity of just two! And now we have the Lufthansa A380 with a capacity of 520 passengers! What better evidence of the fact that bigger is better for Indian aviation than the reality that flights can today carry thousands and millions of passengers everyday, to their dream destinations? Imagine if these wonderful crafts were still the privilege of the astonishingly rich alone. You and I, we’d still be taking ferries, braving storms and spending months to touch foreign shores.

This post was written as a part of the Indiblogger and Lufthansa A380 – The dawn of a new era initiative to celebrate ‘why bigger is better for Indian aviation’

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