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Where have all the Balloons gone?

By blowers - 18 March 2011 12

balloons

Am I imagining it or there are only 1/3 the usual number of Balloons turning up at this year’s Balloon Fiesta?

I recall seeing 30 – 40 balloons in the past but we have been lucky to see 15 – 18 this year.  Have they lost interest? 

My theory is that the visiting balloons need incentive to fly during the festival.  And that could be in the way of attracting the public to fly with them.  But at a cost of $330 per person not too many of us are keen to participate. We’d much rather sit, watch and take photos.

On Wednesday I noticed a sign saying “Mid Week Discounted Flight at only $250” down at the festival site.

I listened to a presentation by the pilot of one balloon who explained how much fuel was used in a flight and that cost him $43.00 and that it was therefore quite a cheap activity for him to be involved in.  So where does the other $290 go?  and if they take two passengers……

A friend of mine told me that on the same morning there were at least 5 balloons in the air in Melbourne. And they were probably taking passengers.

Why would you want to drive to Canberra just to show off your pretty balloon?

[Photo taken this morning by Anthony Caffery]

What’s Your opinion?


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12 Responses to
Where have all the Balloons gone?
Tootza 11:14 pm 14 Mar 13
balloonatic 10:08 pm 22 Mar 11

growingupisoptional said :

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.

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

GardeningGirl 6:54 pm 22 Mar 11

Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective on it Growingupisoptional. Very sad to hear.
We’ve always loved seeing the balloons but this year the combination of iffy weather and the thought of the possibility of a repeat of last year’s lack of information/communication discouraged us.

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.

interestedcitizen 7:26 am 21 Mar 11

The headline photo was taken this year – to my knowledge the Strawberry special shape has not appeared in Canberra before. The scenes created by these balloons in the Parliamentary Triangle and around Lake Burley Griffin were spectacular. The best times to view the balloons inflating and flying were between 0630 and 0800. Most balloons appeared to have landed before 0830. Many thousands of Canberrans and visitors have enjoyed the balloon festival since the mid 80’s and many of us hope the event will grow to be one of the highlights of the 2013 festivities.

Jeff Tracy 10:19 am 20 Mar 11

“The event used to be run by local private balloonists . . . . . . A couple of years back the government took over and . . . ”

We were down there this weekend and there were definitely fewer balloons and fewer spectators than I remember a few years ago. What happen to all the spectacle?

In past years the kids and I remember watching a fleet of fancy balloons in all different shapes, with balloons on lawns throughout the morning. I spoke to one of the balloonists this morning and she said the event used to be the biggest in the southern hemisphere, but the biggest is now in New Zealand. Sounds like we’re back to more ACT Government vanilla !

We have some great events in Canberra but I often find events run directly by ACT Gov lack authenticity – I guess if you’ve kept a few local voters happy it’s a success !

Swaggie 1:25 pm 19 Mar 11

We went down this morning (Saturday) and enjoyed it, great Breakfast courtesy of the Lions Club with a wonderful live performance from Annie & The Armadillos (and who was that amazing kid who grabbed the mic off Annie to do a song?) The Balloons were sensational but one minute they were there , the next they were gone… just not enough of them. 100 for the 100th birthday is a brilliant idea.

Fly High Fly Far 9:49 pm 18 Mar 11

The event used to be run by local private balloonists who were in it to purely provide an event for the public and made little if any money off it and worked for 9 months prior to each event to get it running and attract balloons to attend from both interstate and overseas. A couple of years back the government took over and have since began to strangle the event! Balloon Aloft now also have their hand in it and my view is that they are there to simply take passengers and earn their money and like the government have forgotten about the public enjoyment of seeing 40-50 balloons all take off. I think the fact the government and commercial balloon carriers have taken over has changed the event for the worst and private balloonists are becoming less interested in attending! It goes to show this year with only 20 odd balloons and two special shapes attending – years ago there used to be up to 50 balloons and many shapes- bring back the Mickey Mouse and Freddo sort of special shape balloons!

Not all the balloons carry passengers. The majority of them are private people who have their own balloon and enjoy flying with their family and friends. Your average private balloon capable of carrying pilot and one or two passengers costs around 50k and yeah the gas costs are fairly cheap (chews roughly 60L per hour). All in all not a bad sport to get into when you consider the money people spend on sports cars and boats for a hobby 🙂

If the current event organisers want to improve the event I would make it more attractive by placing the emphasis on attracting interstate and overseas balloonists as used to occur by offering to pay for transport and accommodation. The event has been running since the early 1980’s and has been a great event for all to enjoy. It would be a shame to see it continue down its current path! Coming up on Canberra’s 100th birthday it would be great to see 100 balloons to celebrate!

troll-sniffer 2:47 pm 18 Mar 11

Would you get up at 3am, lug a balloon and basket to a site, spend a couple of hours getting it ready, hope the conditions are OK or your time’s wasted, provide a support vehicle with driver and then lug it all home, arrange for repairs as required, arrange for new gas cylinders to be available, then sit down and do all the paperwork including promotions and planning, and whatever else is involved in running a hot air balloon for less than $660? After all expenses the return would be at most $300-$400 for a multi-ten thousand dollar investment, OK but there are many tourism-related businesses with less investment returning more.

In 1988 I spent $250 on my balloon ride, which to this day is still possibly the best $250 I’ve ever spent. So if the price has only risen to $330 some 23 years later, you’re getting a bargain.

blowers 2:13 pm 18 Mar 11

Public liability insurance, perhaps?

Perhaps, but seriously, that much? The pilot did say that he pays an annual fee for Insurance and was not concerned about it saying it was what you’d expect to pay.

I had a conversation with a workmate who thought the rides cost about $120 – $150 which seems fair. But lack of passengers and cost of Public Liability can’t be the deterrent. Interesting that the photo attached to the story is not from this year. There are a number of regular aircraft in that photo that are absent this year.

BlackIce 1:14 pm 18 Mar 11

…So where does the other $290 go? and if they take two passengers……

Public liability insurance, perhaps?

Holden Caulfield 11:33 am 18 Mar 11

I drive past Questacon just after 8am most days and I’ve barely seen any balloons in the air this week; just lots of people having breakfast in the marquees opposite the Treasury building.

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