Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Residents of Addis Ababa and those in the vicinity are beginning to witness a strangely huge red balloon floating overhead. Some chase the balloon on foot looking up the sky in amusement, while others strangely run for cover.
It is difficult to explain the reaction of people on the ground, however being able to fly is a childhood dream for many. The fact is humans canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fly. Welcome to hot air ballooning then, the closest thing to the experience of actual flying. It is one of the most enjoyable activities one can experience. Peacefully quiet, smooth and offers a birdÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eye view of a beautiful landscape.
Hot air ballooning is a centuries old invention. The first hot air balloon flight took place in 1783, but no man dared to hop on board the historic voyage. Instead, humans sent helpless creatures like a sheep, a duck and a rooster.
And two months later, two French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, succeeded in the first manned hot air ballooning. It was a 20 minutes flight from the center of Paris which marked the birth of hot air ballooning. The Wright brothers made history only 120 years later.
Despite this long history of the adventure, Ethiopians are only beginning to see a big balloon with people in a basket on their sky.
Abyssinia Ballooning, a joint venture between an Ethiopian company, Rotterdam General Trading, and the Dutch Virgin Balloon Flights, are pioneering in hot air ballooning in Ethiopia.
Ahadu Beza, who moved to Ethiopia from the Netherlands over a year ago, is the general manager and co-owner of Abyssinia Ballooning. His dream became a reality after winning a business plan competition for Dutch entrepreneurs with ambitions in developing countries.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Out of 140 submissions, my business proposal won the competition and I was awarded half of the investment cost to start the joint venture,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ahadu said.
With a total investment cost of over 500,000 euros (13 million birr), the company imported their first 20 meters wide and 30 meters high hot air balloon capable of carrying 12 passengers, under a 315,000 cubic feet (by volume). The investment cost includes a plan to import three more hot air balloons.
This is the balloon Addis Ababans are now seeing floating on their clear morning sky. Flights take place near dawn when the wind is the calmest.
On February 16, 2012, the hot air balloon made the International Community School of Addis Ababa, located in the Bisrate Gabriel area, its launching point. It was time for media people to embark on one of the first hot air balloon flights in Ethiopia.
Launching begins by attaching a burner system to the basket. The nylon balloon envelope, which is also attached to the basket, is laid out on the ground. Then using a powerful fan, the crew inflates the balloon.
The captain and co-owner of Abyssinia Ballooning, the Dutch Bram Van Loosbroek, was at the center of this whole process. As the balloon swells, the captain, licensed to fly by the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, began blasting the helium flame into the mouth of the balloon. Then the balloon started to lift off the ground. But to prevent an unmanned hot air balloon flight, the basket is tied to a vehicle until all passengers are onboard.
Six media people and six crew men began their smooth ascendance to the cheers of ground crews and onlookers.
Hot air balloon is somewhat an impractical vehicle to actually go somewhere. It travels to the speed and direction of the wind. But it is quite an adventure.
That early morning, the wind was blowing westwards, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s where we headed. As we began to enjoy a birdÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eye view of Addis, residents were only waking up to a clear blue sky.
Perfectly partitioned resident areas, city landmarks including the new African Union Headquarters, highways and smokes from open the dump site known as Ã¢â‚¬ËœKosheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ were the major urban scenes. But as we flew to the outskirts of Addis, agricultural lands, river gorges and water ponds gives one a memorable experience.
Floating at 30 hrs/Km at an altitude as high as 3,500 ft (1.8Km), the crew had an unforgettable 40 minutes flight.
Our landing, though, was not as smooth as the flight. A bumpy landing on a farm land in Gefersa Guji, some 30 Km from the capital, scared some passengers. While others found the adventure even more exciting with the adrenalin rush.
The captainÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s instructions of sited positions inside the partitioned basket ahead of the landing provided safety for passengers.
Our captain blamed a heavy wind towards the end for the rough landing. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Two days before, the landing was as smooth as putting an egg on the ground,Ã¢â‚¬Â said one crew member. There was no doubt of the Dutch captainÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s command with over 20 years of flying experience under his belt.
Five minutes after landing, we were surrounded by a large crowd of people from the area. School boys and girls, who were heading to Guji Kerssa Elementary School, took a detour to the area where we landed. Young as well as old gathered with a look of fascination and curiosity on their faces. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What is it?Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“What does it do?Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“How does it fly?Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why did you land here?Ã¢â‚¬Â were common questions.
Perhaps the most exciting moment during the flight was the sight of some local people, young and old, running for cover. We asked why this was the case. The response we got was: Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is something we have not seen before, so we were scared.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Hot air ballooning is popular in other African countries, including in neighboring Kenya. It is an adventurous experience for tourists who wish to admire the beauty of the continent from above.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are happy to bring this innovative service to Ethiopia,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Ahadu. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This will attract more tourists to the country and make the tourism industry stronger.Ã¢â‚¬Â
According to the manager, the company plans to provide the service in other tourist destination including Axum, Lalibela and Nech Sar National Park.
With an online booking system and a service of three to four hours, the company charges 200 USD for locals and 300 for foreigners. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is a discount for one month. Our price will be 250 and 350 USD for locals and foreigners, respectively.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The company will start its service employing flight captains from the Netherlands. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We will train Ethiopian pilots and offer the service with qualified local pilots,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Bram Van Loosbroek, who owns 50 per cent of the joint venture.
Ahadu will be among the first Ethiopians who will head to Italy to receive flying techniques of hot air ballooning.
As for us, our flight ended with the deflating and re-packing of the balloon envelope. Then the captain gathered the crew for an ancient champagne tradition which involves a brief history of hot air ballooning and an award of a certificate.
A straw of grass collected from the landing site is placed on the head of each crew. Then the captain poured a bottle of Champaign over each of us bestowing the title Ã¢â‚¬ËœCountÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, marking a successful completion of hot air ballooning.
Look at the Launching ceremony Photo here.
Bole Medhanialem Area, Helzer Tower 1st Floor; Namibia Street, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
EthiopiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first hot air balloon company lets you discover the beauty of Ethiopia from a birdÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s view. Enjoy the thrill and magic of ballooning. We will give you an experience you will never forget
By Mikias Sebsibe