Bir, Himachal Pradesh: The Paragliding World Cup 2015 got underway with Union Minister of Civil Aviation P. Gajapati Raju flagging off the pilots from the Billing launch site here on Saturday.
Despite overcast conditions, the pilots took to the skies amidst cheers of encouragement from the crowds that thronged Billing.
A total of 130 pilots representing more than 35 countries are taking part in the World Cup that will conclude on October 31.
"The picturesque setting of Bir-Billing provides a perfect backdrop for the biggest aero sport event in the country," said the minister.
The local Billing Paragliding Association are the organisers of the event, while the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is the title sponsor.
"We are confident that the Paragliding World Cup will take the sport to the next level," Sudhir Sharma, president of the local association said.
For the first time GPS-aided GEO augmented navigation (GAGAN), an India SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) Programme jointly developed by the India Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the AAI will be used for live tracking of the pilots.
The AAI is providing the pilots with GAGAN signals for accurate navigation and tracking facility. For the first time GAGAN-enabled accord receivers have been put to use in the Indian airspace.
The field at the AAI Paragliding World Cup is one of the strongest on the tour.
The top-ranking pilots who are participating in the event are Julien Wirtz of France, who has been ranked World No. 1, Vidic Jurij of Slovenia and Torsten Siegel of Germany.
Jurij, Wirtz and Siegel held the spots second, third and fourth, respectively, in the world and also in Europe.
Andreas Malecki of Germany, former World No. 1 from September 2011 to February 2012, and Maxine Pinot of France, World No. 8 and winner of 2014 Super Cup in Turkey, are among the top participants.
The Indian challenge will be led by Ajay Kumar, who is the country's one of the most experienced pilots.
The Billing Paragliding Association formed in 2006 had successfully organised the Pre-World Cup of Paragliding here in 2013.
The association is the only organisation recognised by the Aero Club of India, which in turn is the only body recognised by Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world governing body for air sports, and the Paragliding World Cup Association (PWCA).
The FAI was formed in 1905.
As a competitive sport, Paragliding has already featured in some Games like the South-East Asian Games and the Asian Beach Games. Paragliding was also short-listed in the initial list of new events for the 2020 Olympics, but will now be considered for the 2024 Olympic Games.
Bir-Billing is considered one of the most natural locations for the paragliding and is about 60 km from Kangra town.
The take-off site at Billing, situated at an altitude of 2,325 metres, has been refurbished to enable 15 to 50 gliders to take off simultaneously. The landing site at Bir, located at 1,360 metres, has also been expanded for safe landing.