25 March 2011

The dwindling balloon festival - two views

| johnboy
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Last week “blowers” asked why the balloon festival was getting less balloons.

We had two responses in the comments that deserve greater consideration.

The first:

#9 growingupisoptional
8:42 pm, 21 Mar 11

Have they lost interest? Yes, it’s not the event it was for me in the past.

Should there be an Incentive for pilots to fly? Yes, but not what you’d think.

I was the pilot that said it cost $43 to fly. However I am a private pilot and make nothing from taking my two friends for a fly in my sister’s balloon. It’s like owning a ski boat and taking mates for a ski. It’s also a 2- 3 person balloon not a 10-20 person commercial balloon.

I used to like driving to Canberra from Adelaide to show off my pretty balloon, but this year I choose to send it to a balloon event in New Zealand. There’s lots of reasons why.

From Adelaide I was up for $400 of fuel to drive and 9 days off work to come to Canberra. What I got in return was accommodation, free gas, and an event worth coming to which was the reason we did it. The event used to cover the increased insurance costs for us to fly over Canberra. There was an organised social activity every day to keep us all amused, from as simple as go-carting and lazer skirmish, all of which we paid for ourselves but the event organised for us to go together. There was also the night glow when balloons are put up at night for the spectacle of it, although for some reason people were made to pay to watch this, in country towns we do this for free as a thank you to the community.

So now I live in Canberra, and this year to fly my balloon here, I would have had to pay an extra $250 on top of my insurance policy for 9 days to fly at the Canberra Festival as it’s no longer covered by the event. I get free gas, but with 4 flights over the festival at $43 a flight I would have been $78 better off just flying on my own – no increased insurance.

So will I drag my pretty balloon out at 6am in the morning to be told where and when I can fly by the organisers of the event? No, I’m voting with my feet and I’m going to Balloons Over Waikato instead. Free freight for balloon to NZ, free accommodation, free car and trailer, free gas, and social events organised and some sponsored. This event is now the biggest in the Southern hemisphere (130K spectators over 5 days) having taken over from Canberra as it slides from what it was three years ago when it was organiised by a volunteer group of private pilots, to what it has become.

The Canberra Balloon Spectacular is currently organized by the local commercial balloon company for the ACT Government Events . They are there to make money and not waste time organising events for private pilots, and attempting to raise additional sponsorship money to cover the top up insurance and running a night glow must eat into their time and profits. For years I would bring a model RC hot air balloon for kids to fly and a retired full size balloon for people to walk inside and experience what it’s like to pre-flight a hot air balloon. Inside I would also explain how balloons fly and basically everything about why I like balloons. I even invited “Live in Canberra” a group that helps new “Canberrians” get to know the local area, to come inside the balloon as a part of their event. The organisers told me “no” I could not do it. So this year I did not bring my balloon, I did not bring my RC balloon and I did not bring a walk through balloon. On Sunday the weather was poor and there was nothing for spectators to see or do.
I love ballooning and I love introducing new people to it, pity the organisers of the event are more interested in how much money they can make from flights than they are about the people who love the sport.

Rule # 1 = if it’s not fun, don’t do it.

Obviously I am not alone from 50 balloons down to 23, I am not the only pilot to notice the decline.
The event in Leeton rural NSW this year will be bigger.

Then followed by this:

#11 balloonatic
10:08 pm, 22 Mar 11

I’m part of the festival organising crew and need to set a few things straight here.

All in all the festival does need a bit of pep, but it basically comes down to how much you can do with the resources and money on hand.

1. Balloon Aloft originally started the festival back in the mid 80?s. This was for a number of reasons, generate interest in ballooning, bring tourism to the ACT and generate more business for balloon aloft. It is a great time to be flying with many other balloons in the sky. Since then Hot Air Balloons have become one of Canberra’s most iconic tourism attractions. So lets not forget our roots eh?!?!

2. The topic of this forum, where did all the balloons go?!?!? The event in NZ is definitely a great event that attracts many pilots, but we also have the Aussie National Ballooning Champs coming up in 3 weeks that has kept at least 10 pilots away from Canberra this year.

3. If the local commercial ballooning company didn’t shake hands with the ACT government last year there wouldn’t have been a Canberra Balloon Festival in 2010. The private promotional company would not put the event on if they didn’t get more dollars from the Gov. It was late Jan/Feb when the organisation went back to ACT Gov and Balloon Aloft. So the festival goes full circle and it’s back to its roots. In all honesty I think the event should be run by a promotional company, then we wouldn’t have to do it. Don’t get me wrong, we love helping with the festival, I took a weeks leave to dedicate to the festival. I believe the festival has to be done in conjunction with the Canberra (birthday) Week festival until we are getting 50-60 balloons every year. Then we might be able to look at doing a balloon festival in its own right.

4. More social events you ask, it’s a shame I didn’t see you at the Pitch n Putt, 4×4 Brindie Tour, Winery Tour or the Spit Roast at sky fire. But hey we could squeeze a few more social events in, any suggestions?

Alright moving right along, lets get some good suggestions going on how we can improve on next year as we build to 2013. Here are my suggestions

– more things for the kids on the launch field, buskers, dancers, cheerleaders, model balloon building competitions and a big truck where kids can walk in, paint the walls then come back the next day with fresh walls to paint.
– simple fun competition style tasks for the pilots on each flight, with prizes.
– incentives to tether, maybe free tickets to events
– photography competitions for the crew
– discounted tickets to concerts and events in canberra for pilots and crew
– special shapes are hard because we don’t have any big name sponsors besides the gov, so anyone out there want to sponsor the festival? If we can snag a decent sponsor the special shapes will come.

Peace and soft landings

Hopefully this gets addressed

[Photo by Anthony Caffery]

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Oops. see that now. thks. and Thanks growingupisoptional

I also think the early comment about this photo is correct in that it was this year. How the heck did you get all the balloons in one shot?? LOL

Um, no Johnboy is not a balloon pilot. growingupisoptional made the comment.

I really appreciate the responses to my question. They are well thought out and presented. I am not completely convinced Johnboy is the pilot I heard at the festival. You seemed to young to have all the experience you list in your resume of ballooning.
I love the Balloon Festival and look forward each year to coming along and I am there at least a couple of times each year. I don’t mind if the weather is not kind to flying and I really do appreciate the effort the Pilots who attend have put in to be at the Festival.
This is one event that needs to remain on the calendar each year. I am sure I am not alone in saying that we consider it part of Canberra. The GFC must have put a strain on Government support a few years ago but there is an opportunity to reinvigorate the festival.
My 2c worth is that we do need more buskers and street entertainers down at the launching. Everything that is put on is appreciated but to encourage more people and to make it more fun we need the party atmosphere.
Wish I was living in Waikato! 🙂

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