Fanbase: Plane Spotters India

Fanbase: Plane Spotters India

We interviewed Devendra Kulkarni, an aviation photographer and aviation reporter who runs India's largest aviation enthusiast community

by Francesco Marino

If you are looking for a rapidly expanding aviation market, think of India. Overall, IATA expects India to displace the UK as the third-largest aviation market by 2026. Ten years after that, India's air passenger traffic will grow to 442 million by 2035, an increase of 322 million passengers from the current numbers, it estimates.

India is also one of the most attractive helicopter markets of the world, with strong growth figures for the next 20 years. In 2016, the national manufacturer HAI, after a period of study, conducted the first technical flight of its indigenous light utility helicopter, while in 2016 Airbus Helicopters had entered into a joint venture with Mahindra Defense to make military helicopters in India.

No wonder that there are a number of initiatives in the country for aviation fanatics and, of course, for airplane spotters.

We interviewed Devendra Kulkarni, an aviation photographer and aviation reporter who runs India's largest aviation enthusiast community: Plane Spotters India.

Devendra, tell us something about you: how old are you, where do you live, what do you do in your life and what do you like?

My name is Devendra Kulkarni,  I’m 21 and I live in Pune, India. I am student and I love travelling, adventure, exploring & photography. I’m a plane spotter & aviation photographer with over 1.500 aircrafts spotted including 480 helicopters which also includes seaplanes, gliders, helicopters, aircrafts, vintage aircrafts, crash sites and preserved aircrafts.

How did you start being interested in aviation?

It all begun about 8 years ago, in 2009. It was a time when I used to see an aircraft flying over my home daily and I had a question in mind, where does this aircraft is going? How high is it flying? What airline it belongs to? From there onwards I’ve been going through flight schedules and various aircraft tracking sites, and also kept up my personal spotting database; although it was hard back then to spot an aircraft without aircraft tracking apps which started coverage in India only a few years back. So from then onwards I’ve been researching and collecting info about aircrafts, their engines, technical details, airways, routes, and so on.

What about photography?

I am always looking for creative photos. From aircraft parked on the ramp to flying high at 41,000ft - I click them all. It's about capturing the beauty of flying.

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 What kind of camera and instruments do you use?

I use a Canon EOS 700D with kit lens of 55-250mm, 18-55mm and Canon PowerShot SX40 HS bridge camera which has a 35x optical zoom which helps me spotting high level aircrafts.

Can you tell us more about Plane Spotters India, the spotter's community you run?

Plane Spotters India is an online community founded by me, it is today India’s largest aviation enthusiast community with over 48,000 followers on our Facebook page, which includes amateur as well as professional photographers, pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, cabin crew, ground crew, air traffic controllers, airport staff. We showcase photographs of latest spottings across India.

And you manage to build up a digital community, too.

We do communicate between us using social networks such as Facebook, while there are various city based Whatsapp groups so that local spotters can properly communicate with each other.

It seems like spotter's communities like the one you run, are becoming an important part of the aviation world. How is it happening?

Indeed, as the hobby is growing we’ve been joined by youth and we’re the platform for them to showcase, explore, and get in touch with other spotters as well as to keep eye on latest spottings in the country. It plays a big role to unite the people from all over the world with a similar hobby. Many spotters from abroad who are travelling to India do contact us and we link them up with local spotters in the city.

What's the role of social media in this evolution?

Social media plays a very crucial role in this, it helps us to communicate and stay in touch with other spotting communities across the globe. It is not just a website where you simply go and upload your status, but it can be a great tool to find people who has similar interest as you.

In your opinion, do spotter communities help building up brand reputation like airlines, airports and helicopter-oriented companies?

Indeed. I think it does help building reputation as some photographs taken by the spotters are featured in airline’s inflight magazines and social network, also spotters has good idea about airline, helicopter company or airport operational knowledge such as ontime performance, flight status, which are sometimes referred to friends and people which I believe makes an impact on company reputation.

 Let's talk about helicopters: what is your favorite helicopter ?

My favorite helicopter is the Sikorsky S76. There are 5 of them in India and just 4 are still active as of today. I am lucky to have them all 5 spotted. I can even recognize S76 approaching me just by its engine sound. It's a great helicopter with various mission capabilities.

When and where is better to take picture of helicopters?

Usually I shoot helicopters from my home as they fly over. But it is great opportunity to go out and see military helicopters during the airshows, like Aero India, which is organized every two years by India’s MoD and Indian Air Force at Yelahanka Air Force Station, Bangalore. A good spot is Juhu Aerodrome, Mumbai,  which is probably India’s largest heliport with over 250 daily helicopter activities, which includes offshore operations as well as rivate. Juhu is base for all the India’s largest helicopter operators as well as it facilitates maintenance for helicopters.

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