Bal­loon­ing ti­tles start

Hills Gazette (Kalamunda) - - FRONT PAGE - Lynn Gri­er­son

OR­GAN­IS­ERS of the Na­tional Bal­loon­ing Cham­pi­onships in Northam ex­pect visi­tor num­bers to soar in a week of thrills over the Avon Val­ley.

All eyes will look sky­wards when 30 pi­lots head up and away in hot air bal­loons to nav­i­gate wind speeds and al­ti­tudes from to­mor­row un­til Septem­ber 9.

The event launch on Satur­day will open with a free fam­ily fi­esta and an after-dark dis­play of glow­ing bal­loons and fire­works set to mu­sic.

Co-or­di­na­tor Donna Tasker said in­ter­est in the 2017 cham­pi­onships in­di­cated the event would be big­ger than be­fore.

The com­mer­cial pi­lot is home from Myan­mar (Burma) after a six-month stint fly­ing hot air bal­loons over the tem­ples of Ba­gan and a change of pace at the cham­pi­onships hosted by Northam Aero Club.

“Northam is the only place in WA where hot air bal­loons are flown through­out win­ter months and spring is the season for pi­lots to fly over our beau­ti­ful Avon Val­ley,” she said.

The 45-year-old from Boya said the win­ner of the na­tional event would com­pete in the 2018 world cham­pi­onships in Aus­tria.

Pi­lots from Hong Kong, Ja­pan and Rus­sia will com­pete against the na­tion’s best in chal­lenges cul­mi­nat­ing in a quid­ditch-like test where pi­lots fly from point to point col­lect­ing foam keys from the ends of 10-me­tre poles.

Com­peti­tors fly daily from sun­rise to 9am, when the weather is usu­ally calmer, and in the af­ter­noon from 45pm.

WA won the rights to stage the cham­pi­onships with the sup­port of the State Gov­ern­ment’s re­gional tourism pro­gram, Roy­al­ties for Re­gions and the Shire of Northam.

The at­trac­tion is ex­pected to gen­er­ate more than $1.8 mil­lion in visi­tor in­come to the re­gion.

In 2015 the event had a huge ef­fect on re­gional tourism, with re­ports of booked-out ac­com­mo­da­tion in Northam, York and Toodyay, with restau­rants, cafes and other tourism attractions well pa­tro­n­ised over the busy pe­riod.

Ms Tasker said or­gan­is­ers re­lied on the co-op­er­a­tion of lo­cal farm­ers to al­low com­peti­tors to take off and land on their prop­erty.

“Our friendly farm­ers sup­port the cham­pi­onships hugely be­cause bal­loons only fly where the wind takes them; you can’t steer a bal­loon. Pi­lots de­pend on the weather to stay air­borne and ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent,” she said.

Northam broth­ers An­drew, Peter and Michael Cle­ments, Northam lo­cal Sven Tet­low and Peter Stephen­son from Wem­b­ley will rep­re­sent WA at the nationals.

Ms Tasker and Damian Hays will pi­lot pas­sen­ger flights in the Asthma and Wind­ward Ad­ven­ture bal­loons and a few spots are still avail­able.

Third-gen­er­a­tion pi­lot Ryan Bris­tow-Stagg from Northam will join men­tor pi­lots to pro­vide lo­cal knowl­edge and guid­ance to the vis­it­ing pi­lots.

More than 11,000 spec­ta­tors vis­ited the re­gion in 2015 when Northam last hosted the event. Visit Northam Nationals on Face­book for lat­est flight plans and www. northam­na­tion­ for other de­tails.

Hot air bal­loon pi­lot Donna Tasker fly­ing over the tem­ples of Ba­gan in Myan­mar.

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