It was not a takeoff that zero-fuel aeroplane Solar Impulse-2 (SI-2) pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg had expected.
After landing at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport on March 10, the solar plane was scheduled to leave for Varanasi in the second leg of its India sojourn on March 13. The takeoff was, however, delayed after one of the pilots, Bertrand Piccard, could not secure immigration clearance. The plane finally left Ahmedabad airport for Varanasi on Wednesday, piloted by Piccard’s colleague Andre Borschberg.
Piccard, however, is still stranded at the Ahmedabad airport. Speaking to mediapersons, Piccard blamed the administration for the delay.
“I am not accusing anyone. I am just saying that for five days we have been trying to get stamps (clearance) and every day, they (authority) say it will be done tomorrow. Even after five days, I don’t have the stamp,” said Piccard.
Airport officials, on other hand, blamed the customs and immigration departments.
“There is a rule of giving transport clearance to a foreign aircraft for its takeoff. However, in this case, customs failed to give the transport clearance,” said an airport official.
“The customs department was aware that Solar Impulse-2 was supposed to take off from the city on March 13. However, for five days, they delayed the flight due to customs and immigration clearances,” he added.
Customs officials, however, said the SI-2 was a foreign aircraft, which needed clearance from the department. “It’s a foreign aircraft and needs to have customs clearance,” they said, adding Piccard did not have immigration clearance as his passport was not stamped.
The SI-2 team, on its part, took to twitter to garner support. “Bertrand Piccard blocked in Ahmedabad to get a stamp on passport. Can anyone help?” an SI-2 official tweeted.
“In Ahmedabad, the solar team is waiting for Bertrand Piccard SI-2 passport! Time is running out,” said another tweet.
The globe-trotting SI-2 began its journey on March 9 from Abu Dhabi. It landed at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport on March 10, after a 15-hour flight from Muscat.
Borschberg, the project’s co-founder, and co-pilot and project president Piccard spent over a week in the city during the plane’s stopover.
From Varanasi, the SI-2 will fly to Mandalay in Myanmar, Chongqing and Nanjing in China and, thereafter, to the US.