During the day, K Vybhava Srinivasan gives financial advice at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a chartered accountant. After office, he embraces his childhood passion for the aircraft, especially the cockpit. His friend Deepak Agarwal, also a chartered accountant, quit his job with the Aditya Birla Group to fly on the ground. Together they created Flight4Fantasy in Bengaluru, first-of-its-kind flight simulation centres of the cockpits of a Boeing 737 NG, fighter jet and a Cessna aircraft. While he was still employed, Srinivasan had built a Boeing 737 cockpit in his house in 2011. One flight led to another, and by the next year, Flight4Fantasy was ready.
The latest centre at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport at Terminal 2 was launched on February 21. Flight4Fantasy also has centres at Forum Mall in Bengaluru and at Phoenix Marketcity, Mumbai, and a smaller one in Bengaluru. They are now looking at entering the National Capital Region and Pune next, and also expand by way of a franchise model.
The duo, both 37, believe that their flight to entrepreneurship has taken them from servitude to freedom. It was not easy. They had unending discussions with pilot friends, a year-long research, no similar realistic entertainment options in the country and a lot of money at stake. “The response has been much on expected lines. We have delivered 50,000 flying experiences so far. We have also evolved our offerings based on suggestions and preferences of our guests,” says Agarwal.
Ideal for those who dream of ‘flying’ an aircraft, a flight simulator is not a video game; it resembles the inside of a real cockpit. “After a pre-flight session by an instructor, you will sit in the pilot’s seat in the cockpit, take off, travel through 20,000 airports and land in your destination,” they say.
The Boeing 737 cockpit is their prized possession. “We imported almost every item that goes into a real Boeing 737 NG cockpit and assembled them here. We created a complete ambience of the cockpit, right from the entrance to the visual impact and appeal to the acoustics,” says Srinivasan.
Software is realistic and is regularly updated. Each aspect of the experience is realistic, following actual procedures right from taxiing, take-off, fasten seat belt announcement, etc. Every minute detail right from pilot seats, speed, altitude, direction, auto pilot, wind direction, wing flaps, landing gears etc are accurately defined.
Each experience centre costs around $150,000 (Rs.1 crore), with multiple simulators. Being chartered accountants, they seem to have worked out the figures; a 30-minute cockpit experience comes for `1,800, which is almost 60 per cent lower than that of similar experiences abroad. “Around the world, flight simulation centres provide only one type of simulation. In India, people expect more, so we have multiple pricing and multiple options,” says Agarwal.
The target audience is the age group of 20-45, who are looking for a different kind of entertainment. “A lot of pilots come to the centre with their families. They want to show them what they do on the job. Children below 10 are not allowed to operate the simulator,” says Srinivasan. Their only competition is the recently-opened centre at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, accessible only to foreign travellers.