I’m sure you’ve seen images of hot air balloons dotting the sky for special occasions, and maybe have even ventured out in one before.
Two sisters from Kuala Lumpur, Izzati and Atiqah Khairudin, had flying in their blood and even went to the extent of getting their pilot licenses in Spain. Atiqah shared, “It started with Izzati’s and my involvement in the Putrajaya Fiesta since 2009, mainly on the event ground—managing the public and ticket sales. Our late father, who founded the company and initiated the Fiesta then passed away in 2012. After his demise, we had to take care of everything; especially the technical specs of ballooning. That was when the idea of becoming a balloonist came to be.”
Now, they’re back in Malaysia and are embarking on a journey as Life On Air, going around the peninsula covering 9 states, to raise awareness among the young generation about hot air balloon’s existence and mechanism and of course, to fly and see different states in Malaysia from a bird’s eye view.
Malaysia From A Different Perspective
At the moment, they’ve been to two states and are in their third state, Pahang.
On their website, Atiqah detailed exactly what they do when they travel state to state.
Day 1 – “First day, is our arrival and site recce.”
Day 2 – “Second day, we go to primary schools (both government and international) and high schools to host balloon workshops!
This idea came about because over the number of conversations we had with other balloonists from all over the world, the one thing they share in common is the interest started when they were young and they used to see hot air balloons flying in their hometown. They used to chase these balloons with their cute bicycles for fun and the rest is history.”
Day 3 – “Third day is where the fun part is, personally! We will find a spot & fly, well not really. Actually we have to decide where we will roughly take off because we need to get approval from DCA beforehand.
The initial goal is to really discover the states from bird’s eye view. To make it more meaningful and fulfilling, credits to Adam Engku, he sparked the idea to fly local guests & interview them, automatically becoming our own flying guide. How awesome is that!”
Day 4 – “The next day, is packing up and departing to the next location.”
It’s not always easy organising events like this as there are a lot of things to consider. The sisters shared with Vulcan Post that since they plan on covering nine states, the main challenges were finding suitable locations to fly and funding the expedition itself.
They said, “In most states, it would be our first free-flying attempt and more often than not the first time a hot air balloon ever flown there! Once we decide on a few spots, we will forward our request to the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). Due to our unfamiliarity with the area and weather conditions, there are times where we just had to ‘wing it’ or change the location entirely. Once we are there flying, we start to discover better spots and understand the weather too. Planning our flights is actually half the fun of ballooning!”
The Local Hot Air Balloon Scene
The sisters don’t spend all the time in the air. They currently run one of the largest and oldest balloon companies in Malaysia that is also responsible for organising the Putrajaya and Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
When asked about some of the assumptions that people have about hot air balloon pilots, they said that most people didn’t know that you can become a pilot from the tender age of 16. So technically, you are permitted to fly even before you are allowed to drive.
According to them, first, you need to go for a theoretical examinations which covers five topics: human factors, meteorology, air law, navigation as well as balloon specifications. Secondly, you need to have at least 16 hours of flying, which includes 1 solo flight before you go for your exams.
Atiqah said, “We were pressed for time and since both myself and Izzati wanted to do it together, this happened simultaneously for us within a month! It was really intense.”
They also mentioned that people get really surprised that there’s a specific license to fly a balloon, though if you think about it, it does make sense that there should be one. Operating all the mechanisms, judging weather and wind conditions, navigating—would you want to put your life in the hands of someone unqualified?
The sisters are living out their dreams, touring the peninsula with their balloon. They hope to explore more destinations within Malaysia especially in Borneo and then, perhaps, even South East Asia.
They said, “We get to promote our own country from a different perspective and grow the interest of youngsters by sharing with them what we know. From there, we will finally get to expand the ballooning industry in Malaysia. For the company, if the feedback is positive, we want to have our own ballooning school. We had to do our pilot course in Spain, so imagine how great it would be if we could have it here!”
Feature Image Credit: Life On Air