“Although we have licensed pilots, we believe that experience is still a crucial issue,” she said, adding, in reference to the recent ballooning tragedy in Egypt, that this sort of incident served as an important lesson in how seriously safety issues in ballooning must be taken.
Chen said that Taitung had thought of introducing ballooning as a great way of vitalizing a wide range of businesses related to the tourism industry. “Taitung seems made for hot air ballooning. There are few airplanes or other obstructions here. But it was not as easy as we thought,” she said, referring to the complex regulatory system that needs to be put in place and the negotiations to obtain the balloons and pilots. As for the need to have pilots and crews if ballooning is to become established in Taitung, she has hopes that Taitung will be able to establish its own training facility in the near future. Currently ballooning certifications need to be obtained overseas.
Taitung has proved that hot air ballooning has enormous potential, and in 2012, only its second year, the Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta drew a crowd of 880,000. Of these, Wechter estimated that 20,000 got into the sky. “In the US or Australia, people might turn up their noses at tethered ascents,” he said, “but the experience is so new here, it quickly become one of the most popular events for Taitung tourism.” Last year, Tainan also had great success with a hot air balloon activity, drawing significant crowds.
“It is an adventure. You are close to the sky in a way that you cannot be in an airplane or a helicopter,” Savio said. There is also a social dimension. “It is something you can do together with friends. After the flight you might relax with drinks or a meal,” Wechter added.
With an eye to the proven success of ballooning in Taitung and Tainan, Hualien will be holding trials over the next three months, and if all goes according to plan, tethered ascents will be open to the public in June. According to Chen in Taitung, with two years of experience behind them, the Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta in June is aiming to introduce its first commercial free flights, taking ballooning in Taiwan to a whole new level.