Interview with Sangram Pawar

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Sangram Pawar is one of India’s few hot air balloon pilots who is making a mark both in the country and internationally.Sangram Pawar is one of India’s few hot air balloon pilots who is making a mark both in the country and internationally. Sangram Pawar is one of India’s few hot air balloon pilots who is making a mark both in the country and internationally.

A hot air balloon ride is always good fun as it gives you a unique insight into the landscape of the place you are flying over. It is not very high (like an airplane) and it is a ride that you will cherish and I was lucky to fly over Mandu recently at the first ever Mandu Festival that had the contoured hot air balloon rides as part of the event. This was when I met a young pilot Captain Sangram Pawar whose tryst with flying I learnt runs in the family.

Past Perfect

Sangram is a B Com graduate from Pune University and has an MBA in Marketing from University of Wales, Cardiff, UK which he did in 2004. “My father Prakash D Pawar was a senior IPS officer in Maharashtra Cadre and because of his transfers, I have attended over 11 different schools and colleges from my first standard to graduation so facing new challenges was something I imbibed since childhood.” His grandfather Late Shrirang Jadhav had represented India in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics which were played for world peace post World War II. Sangram admits his parents always encouraged his sister and him and supported their outdoor and extracurricular activities. “Our parents exposed us to the world of flying when we were in college and since then flying has always been a passion in our family. My younger sister is a commanding pilot and a trainer with Indigo Airlines and I chose balloons and got my training and CPL from USA in 2018.” For the uninitiated, CPL is a Balloon examination that is required to be passed before   

Hot air ballooning
Hot air ballooning

Up, Up & Away

Sangram’s journey as a hot air balloon pilot has been nothing less than a rollercoaster ride. “I started the first ever hot air balloon operation in Maharashtra 2013 at Lonavala which was a completely an unexplored territory for me. It was the passion for flying which gave me the courage to jump at the opportunity to offer something so unique to the people. Since then of course, I have come a long way from facing huge losses, convincing people to try it once (as the people were not aware of the activity) to creating unforgettable memories for our passengers. In fact to sum it all up my driving factor has always been the passion for flying. It has been a fantastic journey until now and I am confident and excited about the future of ballooning in India.” Sangram is one of the few hot air balloon pilots in the country and also had the opportunity to represent India at the world’s biggest balloon event, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2019 in its 48th edition in October 2019 where approximately 500 balloons takeoff together. He is also is the first pilot to fly the first hot air balloon in the history of Oman in August 2019.

Pilot Tales

Ballooning is still at a very nascent stage in India and there is a need for a lot of push and co-operation from the governing authorities, tourism departments and Government. As an adventure sport it has a huge scope to attract heavy tourism into the country. “India has so many historical sites over which the safe balloon rides can be conducted to give a birds’ eye view to the tourists. It is very important to popularise ballooning via festivals and also ease out the requirements by the DGCA to ensure the activity flourishes.” Incidentally it is myth that balloons are not reliable and as they do not have an engine it is less safe. “On the contrary, balloons are the safest aircrafts. Ballooning contributes only 0.5% of the total aviation accidents that have taken place till date and the reason is balloon itself is a parachute which will glide down in case of any malfunction and not drop like a rock like in case of planes or helicopters when the engines fail.” And for Sangram every ride has been different and equally challenging as balloon pilots have to understand the winds precisely to ensure safe landings. One of his most challenging flights was the second last flight of the Albuquerque Balloon festival where the winds at the surface had picked up and he had to ensure a safe landing and safety of his passengers. “I had safely landed the balloon in 25 Knots speed (50 kmph speed) where we dragged for over 150 meters after landing. The key is to remain calm, confident and focused in such pressurizing situations and I am glad that I can say that I did a great job.” On his recent outing at the Mandu Festival he admits that flying over Mandu has been an amazing experience. “The terrain, monuments are so beautiful and more importantly the people are so welcoming and happy to see a balloon land close to their farms. It has been a wonderful area to fly over and would love to fly again anytime.” Looking ahead he hopes that he can start flying for his own operations in Lonavala at the earliest and also try and represent India at international balloon festivals and make India a popular ballooning destination on the world map.

This story first appeared in Sakal Times dated Jan 31, 2020 here:

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