But over the years as technology enhanced and we got better and safer modes of air travel, this historic flyer has become a hobby of sorts that only a few indulge in. India is not far behind when Sky Waltz will become the buzzword of the town since it happens to be the only company providing balloon safari in India.
A hot air balloon is a very unique way of flying. It allows a person to travel with the wind in a balloon filled with hot air. “The hot air in the balloon is created by heating up the air with burners that are operated by the pilot. The pilot has complete control over the ascent or descent of the balloon and they are able to use the various layers and directions of wind to steer the balloon as best as possible in various directions. The pilot carries a range of different instruments on board including a GPS, variometer, aircraft radios and maps of the flying area,” as per Paul Macpherson of Sky.
The fabric used in the manufacturing of a hot air balloon is a special fabric that is very light, very strong and has a special coating that keeps the hot air inside the balloon. The basket that carries the passengers is made of exceptionally strong wicker which is also flexible. Each balloon carries approved cylinders that hold LPG and a special set of burners that heat up the air inside the balloon.
“Pilots undergo the same examinations and study as any other commercial pilot, with the only difference being that they do their training on a hot air balloon as opposed to a fixed wing aircraft,” explains Paul.
In the past eight years, Sky Waltz has worked with many State Governments to organise several balloon festivals. These include the Uttar Pradesh Tourism department for the Taj Balloon Festival in Agra and the Lucknow Balloon Festival (in which they had 15 balloons flying), the Pushkar International Balloon festival for Rajasthan Tourism and also the Hampi International Balloon fiesta for the Karnataka Government.
“We have also had our balloons travel to most states in India to be a part of other festivals conducted by other State departments, corporate and school groups, adventure companies and private parties,” Paul added.
Sky Waltz Balloon Safari has been created by Samit Garg and Jai Thakore, Delhi based businessmen. They have an events and entertainment company called E-Factor Entertainment. After travelling overseas and seeing hot air balloons flying, decided that they would want to do the same in India.
While talking about the company’s history Paul said, “At that time, they found that there was unfortunately no commercial operation in India, so they set about researching and developing the aviation regulations to start such an activity in India. It took them three years of tedious hard work and research before the regulations were in place and supported by the Ministry of Civil Aviation after which Sky Waltz Balloon Safari’s started in 2008.”
Though there are other players who have their Private Balloon Pilot’s license and fly balloons as a hobby, but no one else as yet has entered this niche market place.
India with its beautiful natural topography, scenery, forts, palaces and amazing people offers a great perspective, for all of this can be seen from the air. “The weather conditions in various locations around India are also very good for operating hot air balloons. We also spoke to many International and Domestic Tour Operators who said that they were looking for some new and exciting tourism activities that they could offer their clients with that travel with them in India, of which a Balloon Safari is an experience they felt their clients should definitely not miss,” says Paul.
While Jaipur, Udaipur, Lonavala/Pune, Pushkar, Ranthambore, Neemrana Fort and Manesar (NCR) are mostly the destinations for these flights, the company also conducts flights on a request basis at various other locations as well as operating tethered balloon flights at functions such as weddings and corporate event.
“We do also operate exclusive chartered balloon safaris that can be for a couple or a small family. We have had many marriage proposals and wedding anniversaries on our balloons in which a special message on a banner can be fitted to the balloon along with a cake and a bouquet of flowers,” says Paul.
Prices for this exotic voyage can range from Rs 9,000 per person to USD $250 per person depending on the ticket option that is selected.
While talking about the safety and security measures that the company takes, Paul says, “Our pilots are highly experienced. Our balloons are purchased from the best manufacturers in Spain and the UK. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has created and administered regulations for commercial ballooning in India that are equal to international standards followed by the FIA, CIA, EASA and CASA. All equipments are checked extensively and have back-up systems in place like all other aircraft.”
Hot air ballooning is still only a very new adventure activity in India when you consider the simple fact that it has been operating in other countries for the past 35-40 years. In the past 3-4 years, SkyWaltz has witnessed several domestic tourists wanting do an adventurous activity on their holidays. Hence it can be said that the future of ballooning in India is sky high.