The Herald on Sunday

Scottish hot air balloon firm to take flight once again


AFTER a year-and-a-half out of action due to the coronaviru­s pandemic, Kinross-based Webster Adventures has finally been given the go-ahead by the Scottish Government to resume its hot air balloon flights over Kinross, Fife and Perthshire.

The business, which specialise­s in hot air balloon flights, had been unable to operate since the end of 2019, but this week its flying calendar for the season was once again open for bookings.

“It’s been a very hard 18 months for the business as we did not qualify for any grants or support funding from the Scottish Government,” said owner Daniel Webster.

“This support was apparently for land and sea activities only, so please make of that what you will. Like many businesses, we’ve battled through it and managed to keep going, including retaining all of our staff.

“We had a non-commercial flight a few weeks ago on a Saturday evening over Kinross, just to get us back into the swing of things.

“It felt fantastic to see the balloon flying once again, although we were keen to start taking our passengers again.”

Webster Adventures was establishe­d in 2014 and holds two Guinness World Records: one for a fast English Channel crossing, and another for joining 450 balloons in a huge group ballooning session in Metz, France.

It operates flights for groups of people but is also unique in that it is the only company in Scotland that offers flights for a minimum of two passengers, making it popular with couples – particular­ly when an anniverdar­y celebratio­n or marriage proposal is on the cards.

The typical flying season for balloons falls between mid-March and October, and pilot Pete Forster – who has worked for the company since 2018 and has chalked up an impressive tally of more than 15,000 balloon passengers over his 28 years of flying – says he tends to fly early in the morning or around dusk if the weather and wind conditions allow for it.

“During the day, the air becomes thermic and gusty which is dangerous for balloons as we would get turbulence and loss of vertical control,” explained Mr Forster.

“So, mid-summer, we might be meeting at around 6am and 7pm on-site.

“As the daylight hours shorten, the morning meet time becomes later and the evening time earlier. We can’t wait to get back up in the air.”

Webster Adventures has a primary launch site adjacent to the golf club car park in Kinross, but also has a couple of alternativ­e launch sites at Bridge of Earn and Portmoak to accommodat­e different wind directions and speeds.

Flights tend to last about one hour, with the balloons flying at an altitude of up to 2,500 feet.

Depending on how windy a day it is, passengers can expect to travel between five and15 miles and Mr Forster will point out landmarks and features of interest.

The wind doesn’t just determine the speed of flight but also the terrain customers will fly over. A westerly wind will carry the balloon into Fife, an easterly wind will take the balloon towards Clackmanna­nshire while a southerly wind will guide the distinctiv­e orange balloon into Perthshire across the Ochil hills.

The balloon fleet is insured with an Air Operator’s Certificat­e license to ensure customer safety, and the balloon basket and equipment is cleaned thoroughly between each flight.

Upon landing, customers receive flight certificat­es and champagne.

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