Bahri Kesici: Civil aviation and tourism sectors are interrelated sectors that support and augment each other as developments in one sector often are a driving factor for the other. In this context, it is better not to limit civil aviation as just a mode of transportation only for airway travel and transportation opportunities because civil aviation also supports the cultivation of tourism. Of course, airline connections and the development level of flight networks are the primary factors in the development of tourism, however, civil aviation has a unique opportunity to diversify tourism activities in terms fields of activity as well as potential economic returns through foreign trade. Aviation activities with hot air balloons are also a good example of this. Considering the historical and cultural texture of our country and the tourism potential it holds with its natural beauty, hot air ballooning offers an exclusive opportunity to experience Turkey’s famous touristic regions and open-air museums from an expansive bird’s eye view, up in the air.
With this understanding, the balloon air transportation business has become one of the priority issues for the General Directorate due to its contributions to the country`s tourism and economy. We successfully implemented very significant projects and practices that paved the way for the development of hot air ballooning. As a result, ballooning activities have achieved significant growth and Cappadocia has become one of the largest hot air balloon centers in the world.
As of today, more than 30 hot air balloon companies are active in our country with 239 balloons now in their fleets. Considering that in 2008, we only had10 balloon companies and 67 hot air balloons, we can clearly see that we have achieved notable progress. Since 2008 we have observed an increase of 250 percent in the number of balloon companies and the total number of balloons has soared up to 350 percent. The number of people enjoying hot air balloon tours last year exceeded a half million and reached 537 thousand 500. In 2018, more than 30 thousand balloon flights were realized, reaching a record level, and balloon tours contributed approximately €100 million to the national economy.
Today Turkey performs the largest commercial operation in the world in the field of hot air ballooning in terms of the traffic volume, number of passengers and the number of flying days. In our country, the flights are performed at an average of 200 to 260 days annually, with an average of 90 flights per day. Turkey is a country that hosts the world`s highest number of commercial balloon flights. The large number of flights that occur in Cappadocia in just a day can only be accomplished at festivals at other select destinations around the world.
Bahri Kesici: As I mentioned before, hot air ballooning has become one of the most important activities of our General Directorate due to its contribution to tourism and economy. In particular, the launch of the Balloon Slot Center in 2013 is an important indicator of our determination on this issue. With the launch of this center in Nevşehir, the number of slots for balloon flights is now evaluated on an enterprise basis. This step is highly critical to enable safer and more uniform balloon flights while enhancing the current potential and number of flights.
Another step that we have taken is towards enhancing existing potential through the application of balloon flights during two periods daily by issuing the Balloon Flight Measures Circular. We also put into effect the Cappadocia Balloon Flights Meteorological Evaluation Circular for the examination of the meteorological conditions of the Cappadocia balloon flight area, for the analysis of the reports, coordination and meteorological evaluation prior to flights.
We aimed to achieve sustainable growth by preparing several regulations to ensure that ballooning services are performed at international standards. We have enacted many legal regulations that range from the language competence of pilots, working hours, and to licensing procedures to make pilot licenses aligned with international legislation. Again, we ensured that the balloons` ground teams are certified according to the standards and training requirements set by our General Directorate.
For the development of the sector, we have also put into practice the necessary regulations for the balloons to fly over water. Also, in order to ensure flight safety, we have implemented a project for tracking the balloons with a GPS-based system, and thus, it became possible to instantly detect violations and keep flight data electronically. On the other hand, we are able to record all air band radio conversations through the tower we built for observation and recording. As a consequence of these regulations aiming at more proper and safer balloon flights, the hot air ballooning business has become more preferred by investors and entrepreneurs.
As a matter of fact, the increase in the number of enterprises, the experience provided in balloon flights and the regularization of the legal infrastructure formed a critical foundation for the popularization of hot air ballooning in other regions of our country. From this point of view, we have taken important steps to pave the way for the sector by increasing our inquiries and research in order to also provide balloon flights in different regions of our country in addition to Cappadocia. Within this context, we have taken measures to make Pamukkale the future center of attraction for balloon tourism.
Bahri Kesici: As it is known, balloon flights are performed for exploring historical, cultural or touristic areas from a specific height. Passengers can experience balloon flights for a fee and have the chance to see these historical and touristic areas from the sky. There is a pilot, observer pilot if any, and ground team members for balloon flight operation. Passenger names, nationality and gender information are recorded for each flight and boarding passes are issued for each passenger during balloon flights. Prior to the flight, passengers are informed about the procedures to adhere to before and during the flight and for landing. The balloon is then inflated with normal air first and once its dome rises, the passengers are taken aboard the basket and the balloon flight begins as the basket begins to rise following the hot air hot hair inflation process.
Bahri Kesici: As you know, in order to promote and popularize ballooning activities in different regions of our country apart from the Balloon Flight Area in Cappadocia, we have issued a circular on “Flights to be performed in regions except for the Cappadocia Balloon Flight Area”.
As a result of the evaluation of the demands received within the scope of this circular that was issued in order to contribute to the tourism sector of the country, 9 zones were found to be appropriate for hot air balloon flights: Burdur-Bucak, Denizli-Pamukkale, Adana-Kozan, Bitlis-Ahlat, Ankara-Polatlı, Afyon-İhsaniye, Eskisehir-Seyitgazi, Samsun-Bafra and Aksaray-Ihlara.
In 2017, we launched balloon flights in the Pamukkale region and granted licenses to 8 companies to carry out commercial aviation activities with hot air balloons. In 2019 in addition to these 8 companies that meet the legal requirements, we granted 5 more preliminary permits to 5 companies that completed the requirements. If these companies are also entitled to obtain an actual license, the number of companies operating in Pamukkale will increase to 13 and a substantial contribution will be achieved for the tourism potential of the region.
After Pamukkale, necessary efforts were completed for İhsaniye and Ihlara and balloon flights were launched. Finally, we allowed 30-day test flights in the Dara region of Mardin, which is one of the most important settlements of Mesopotamia with its natural beauty and historical texture.
Bahri Kesici: Balloon flight companies can apply to our Directorate General by completing the Flight Permit Request Form to obtain a flight permit. In these applications, the approval letters of the Governor and the Municipality regarding the security, culture, history and other aspects of the region should also be available. In addition, the necessary information and documents regarding the intensity and direction of the wind in the region for the last three years must be obtained from the Meteorological Directorate and included in the application. These applications will be subjected to a pre-assessment by the Directorate General in the first stage and the meteorological history, wind conditions and land conditions that may directly or indirectly affect balloon flights are examined by technical teams and a preliminary report is prepared for the related application. In the second stage, we carry out on-site examinations. The information on the application that is pre-assessed is reviewed by our technical teams in order to obtain the real conditions of the region. If the evaluation is positive, the coordination phase is initiated, and the opinions of relevant military and civilian institutions and organizations are obtained in order to determine whether there are any restrictions in the region.
Balloon flights are not allowed in the vicinity of airports, in prohibited, dangerous, restricted zones and restricted areas designated by NOTAM. Again, balloon flights should not pose any risk to people and properties on the ground. Wind limits must be suitable for landing and take-off, and there must be no obstacles that affect safety within and above the flight destination. The area in the direction of the wind should be free from obstacles and wide enough to allow safe landings. If all processes are successfully completed, we inform the applicant that the area is suitable for balloon flight.
Bahri Kesici: Even though Turkey is in the leading position in the world for hot air ballooning, the production side is dealt very little. The currently used balloons are supplied from countries such as the U.K., Spain and the Czech Republic. However, our local production entrepreneurs have taken serious steps to complete required processes in the last few years and have reached the certification phase. It is expected that locally produced balloons will start to be used this year.
Bahri Kesici: First of all, all personnel working in balloon companies should receive basic, refresher and on-the-job training in order to render balloon flights at international standards. The operator should prepare the training programs as operating manuals, submit them to the Directorate General for examination and carry out the training in accordance with the program as deemed appropriate. Approved flight training courses are available to provide balloon pilot training. We license these courses after the necessary audits are completed. In addition, there are balloon piloting departments at 2-year vocational high schools. Graduates of these schools are licensed to be hot air balloon pilots provided that they are successful in theoretical exams and skill tests.
One of the key issues for us is the performance of flights by balloon pilots according to flight safety rules. For example, balloon pilots who take a break from 1 year to 2 years should have a refresher flight of not less than 2 hours following the successful completion of the Flight Principles, Emergency and Balloon General courses.
Therefore, both the sustainable growth of hot air ballooning and efforts to promote it in different regions of our country depend on the safe performance of balloon operations. As the Directorate General, we have also published the Balloon Piloting Textbook which includes balloon general information, flight performance and planning, human performance and limits meteorology, navigation, fuel usage, flight principles, first aid, communication and emergency procedures.
Bahri Kesici: As it is known, continuous airworthiness management has been implemented for many years in complex air vehicles (aircraft, helicopters, etc.). However, this standardization for hot air balloons started to be implemented in 2016. Periodic maintenance and repairs previously under the responsibility of each company were directed to maintenance centers in order to make them more regular and safe. Currently, all maintenance, repair and airworthiness procedures of hot air balloons are performed only by authorized maintenance organizations and this has significantly increased their safety.
Bahri Kesici: Balloon tourism continues to be a very attractive and developing sector. I wish for ballooning to become popular in our country in the same way that airlines have flourished and become popular.
I wish you all safe flights