PUTRAJAYA (Bernama): The time was 6.15am. A group of people was seen unloading three hot air balloons and other equipments out of a trailer, in preparation for flight.
The bulky items seemed weighty to handle, but the group, which included three pilots, were very experienced. It took them less than 45 minutes to set up three hot air ballons for flight. Each weighed between 20-30kg.
“Don’t worry, the weather is beautiful and calm and you are in safe hands,” said of the pilots reassuringly.
Captain Filip Audenaert spoke in a calm and casual manner, putting at ease the 12 passengers waiting to get onboard. It was the first time for many of them.
They were gathered at the launching of the MyBalloon Adventure at the open space near Monumen Alaf Baru in Putrajaya. This is the same location as the annual Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
The pilots are all professionals. Audenaert, for example, has 20 years of ballooning experience and tens of thousands of flying hours. He is also the founder and owner of the Filva Ballonvaarten in Belgium.
The other two balloonists, Jonas Van Doorsselaere from Belgium and Sobri Saad, from Kedah, are just as experienced.
Sobri, who is also the CEO of MyBalloon Adventure, has over 15 years of experience in the industry.
“The weather plays a crucial role in ensuring how well the balloon flies. Every flight offers a different experience and that is what excites ballonists every time they fly.
“Besides being adept at handling hot air balloons, pilot must also have meteorological knowledge and among others, be able to assess cloud conditions and wind speed,” Sobri explained.
Hot air balloons will be grounded if it is raining, too hot or when wind speed exceeds 15 knots.
It is a worthwhile experience for those who can afford it. The ride promises a panoramic view from above of the sunrise and the city.
The package starts from RM850 per person for a 45-minute to one-hour flight with complimentary pre and post flight breakfasts.
There are enthusiasts who would categorise hot air balloon flights as a sport, while others see it as a hobby.
However, many first timers would see it as as an activity that incites a rush of adrenaline and provides flyers with a sense of accomplishment.
It is also a great tourism product. While in the air, passengers can get a breathtaking view of Putrajaya and its lake and if the weather is good, they would even be able to view KLCC, the KL tower and Genting Highlands.
Renowned model Amber Chia said the experience of viewing a sunset from 500 feet in the air (the maximum height a hot air balloon flies at) was a treasured experience.
“I’ve always wanted to go on a balloon ride when I was in Adelaide, Australia. I am an adventure seeker; I’ve done skydiving, rock climbing and hot air ballooning was at the top of my bucket list.
“I am finally able to cross it off the list with MyBalloon Adventure. You don’t have to travel far to experience this. I was able to spend my morning in the sky with my son. Who wouldn’t want that?” said a thrilled Chia.
FIRST FEMALE HOT AIR BALLOONISTS
Sisters Izzati Khairuddin, 29, and Atiqah Khairuddin, 27, are the first female hot air balloonists in Malaysia. Both are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and are involved in the hot air balloon business.
They have carried on the legacy of their late father, Capt Khairuddin, the man responsible for introducing hot air ballooning to Malaysia through their company AKA Balloon. The company is the organiser of the annual Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Putrajaya.
Today, the sisters have gone further by joining MyBalloon Adventure to help fulfill requests from among the public who were unable to grab the opportunity to fly during the hot air balloon fiesta.
This is a service different from AKA Balloon usually provides, as it mostly serves corporate groups and events.
“Our father was one of the first hot air balloon pilots in the country, so it’s only natural that we picked up where he left off. Hot air ballooning has always been in the family and our passion.
“Although the activity is still new in Malaysia, we see it as a new sport with plenty of potential,” said Atiqah.
Both balloonists also own Air Operating Certificates from the Department of Civil Aviation.
“So there is no longer a need to go to Europe or Istanbul to experience hot air balloon flying. Just come to Putrajaya,” she added.