Frequently Asked Questions
- Will I be cold during the flight?
Normally it is no colder in the balloon than it is on the ground, and some days it can be warmer once airborne and above the colder and calmer layer of air sitting on the surface in our valley. Because the balloon moves with the wind there is little or no wind chill experienced during flight.
- How high does the balloon fly?
Most flights we usually get as high as 2000 feet above sea level for a look around, however this will depend on the wind speed and direction at altitude on the morning of flight. The joy of ballooning is being able to fly low, to pick leaves from the tree tops and skim across rivers and dams. This is what makes ballooning very unique compared to other forms of aviation.
- Will I be scared of heights?
Ballooning is one of the most natural and safest feelings you will ever experience. It is very different to looking over the edge of a tall building or a cliff. Some of our pilots actually have a fear of heights and avoid working on the roof of their houses, but in the balloons they don’t have any problems. Your pilot will aim to stay low for the first 10 minutes of the flight to allow all passengers to relax and see how gentle ballooning really is. If you find you have a problem during the flight the pilot can always land the balloon somewhere to let you hop out (although no one ever wants to hop out once they are aloft). There is an aura of calmness that seems to come over everyone onboard including the most nervous of passengers.
- Will I experience motion sickness?
Ballooning is one of the smoothest and most gentle ways to fly. Early in the morning at sunrise there are no bumpy air pockets around and everything is very stable. The only bumps you should ever feel in a balloon are those few bumps sometimes felt on landing whilst the balloon comes to rest.
- What should I wear and bring?
Wear casual clothing (jeans & jacket), clothes that can get a little dirty, and sturdy footwear. A hat is also advisable. Don’t forget your camera and plenty of film or be sure to empty your digital camera’s memory card!
- What happens on the morning of the flight?
We meet passengers at the Northam Airfield about 30 mins prior to sunrise. After coffee and a briefing you will be taken on-board our vehicles to the launch site where you are invited to help with the inflation of the balloon. Once inflated everyone climbs aboard the balloon and we fly for 45mins - 1 hour, and our retrieve crew will follow us and meet us at the landing site. Once the balloon is packed away you will be taken to the breakfast venue for a sumptuous breakfast with champagne.
- How long does it all take?
Please allow 4-5 hours for the whole morning’s experience.
- Do you fly if it is raining?
The limiting factor for a balloon flight is the wind rather than rain and usually when it is raining it is also too windy for ballooning. However Northam only gets about one tenth of the rain that falls in Perth. We have lots of days where some of our passengers will drive up from Perth early in the morning before their balloon flight, leaving Perth where it is raining and windy and they get to Northam where it is blue skies and sunshine and perfect for ballooning. Quite often the rain doesn’t make it over the Darling Escarpment (Perth Hills) to Northam unless there is a big strong cold front pushing it inland.
- On the TV last night I saw there will be some bad weather next week, will you be flying?
Please keep in mind that the forecast that you see on the television is a forecast for Perth and may not necessarily reflect the conditions for ballooning in Northam on the morning of the flight. Our flights take place at sunrise when the air is remaining cool and stable, and not affected by the day’s wind currents. This time is during the first hour after sunrise and it is what we call our “Weather Window”. Our flying area in the Avon Valley has been chosen not only for its picturesque rural landscape, but also for the excellent conditions for ballooning at sunrise. This can mean that some mornings may prove to be flyable even when the forecast for the rest of the day may not be promising. If we know in advance that the weather will not be suitable for ballooning we will contact our passengers by 1pm the day prior if we are going to cancel early.
- How safe is ballooning?
At Windward we are proud of our long term safety record which is a feat that is unparalleled by any ballooning company in Australia. Our pilots are fully licensed Commercial Balloon Pilots with many years experience and all of our operations are conducted in strict accordance with the rules and regulations of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Just like Qantas and Virgin Blue we hold an Air Operators Certificate issued by CASA and we are audited by their operations inspectors on a regular basis. Our fleet of balloons are all no more than 10 years old and are fully maintained in accordance with the manufacturers periodic maintenance schedules and CASA requirements. At Windward your safety is our priority!
- How much does a balloon flight cost?
- $320 per person for a weekend or public holiday flight
- $270 per person for a weekday flight
If you are a family with children aged up to 16 years old please ask our office about our weekday family specials.
- What does the breakfast include?
Our breakfast is sumptuous! You won’t need any lunch afterwards.
Breakfast is served in style in the Fountain Restaurant at historic Fitzgeralds Hotel in Northam, after the flight. To start off with there is a buffet selection including a choice of cereals, yoghurt, a fresh fruit platter, a cheeseboard, fresh breads, pastries, cakes and scones. Then a fully cooked breakfast of hashbrown, tomato, mushrooms, baked beans, bacon, sausage and egg is served to your table. Champagne is served to toast your flight. Coffee, tea and juices are also available. Please advise our office if there are any vegetarians or special dietary requirements in your party.
- What days do you fly?
Our season is from April through till late November. The hot and windy summer weather in WA is unsafe for ballooning. During the season we schedule flights every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday at dawn with no minimum number of passengers required. On Tuesday and Wednesday we will schedule a flight once we have a total of four passengers confirmed. If you have less than this number, and want a specific date that we do not have a flight already scheduled, we would waitlist you pending more enquiries. The only day we do not fly is Thursdays which is our pilots official rostered day off to comply with CASA’s strict duty time limitations for pilots.
- Are there any age or fitness limitations?
There is no upper age limit for our flights. However we do require that all of our passengers are fit and healthy enough to climb in and out of the balloon basket, and can comfortably stand unaided for the one hour duration of the flight.
Please advise our office of any pre-existing medical conditions so that we can assess your suitability to fly. We may also ask you to get the all clear from your doctor before we can confirm a booking.
The baskets have foot-step holes at either end where you climb on-board, and we do carry a small stepladder with our Ground Crew for use at the launch and landing sites. The balloon basket is 1.2 metres high.
Please advise our office if you think you may require the step ladder.
Most of our landings are quite gentle and 9 times out of 10 we are able to float the baskets up onto their trailers, prior to deflation of the balloon. However there are the occasional bumpy ones. The bumps felt on a landing I usually equate to be no more impact than the force you would feel when you jump from the second step on a flight of stairs to the ground missing the step in between. The bumps occur if we are coming in to land and the wind pushes the balloon along we bump along whilst we lose our momentum or ground speed. There may be one of these bumps or a few depending on the ground speed of the balloon
at the time of landing.
There is also the very rare ocassion when the basket may tip over onto it’s side as we come in to land (and we all end up in a giggling heap at the bottom of the basket!) The baskets are well padded with thick padding in the floor and on the landing side to help reduce the impact of any bumps on landing.
Please advise our office if you have had any recent leg or back injury or surgery or if you are pregnant.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority Laws state that infants 3 years of age or younger are not permitted to fly in hot air balloons.
We recommend that children are at least 8-10 years old, at which age they are usually tall enough to see over the edge of the basket (which is 1.2 m high) without being held up, but most importantly, mature enough to stand for an hour to enjoy the balloon flight without becoming bored (and disrupting other passengers).
- Can people with disabilities fly in the balloons?
Unfortunately our Civil Aviation Safety Authority (Australia) permit precludes us from carrying handicapped persons in the balloons; as defined in Civil Aviation Orders Section 20.16.3.
CAO 20.16.3 defines a handicapped person as follows:
“A handicapped person is a person requiring special attention because of illness, injury, age, congenital malfunction, or other temporary or permanent incapacity or disability which makes that person unable without special facilities or assistance to utilise air transport facilities and services as effectively as persons who are not so afflicted”.
If the passenger is able to stand unaided in the basket for the one hour flight, we could probably work around this, but if they would require special facilities such as a wheel chair or other support or even the assistance of another person in the basket to support them then this would be in breach of CAO 20.16.3 and our CASA Permit.
Whilst most of our landings are gentle, there can be a few bumps along the ground as the balloon comes to a halt, which could be equated to jumping from the second step on a flight of stairs to the ground (missing a step). Occasionally in a windy landing the basket may also tip over and end up on its side. Our baskets are fitted with padding in the passenger compartments for some added comfort during this type of landing which occurs on average about 1 out of 20 flights.
- Why Fly with Windward?
At Windward we aim to make our customers feel a part of our family. Our team is dedicated to making your ballooning experience as pleasurable and memorable as possible, from the moment you first enquire with us until the time when we say goodbye after your morning of ballooning and champagne breakfast celebrations are over.
Heather and Jenelle in our office understand that you may have questions or need some assurances and they are trained to take the time to answer your queries and provide you with the information that you require. Once your questions are answered we’d be more than happy to send you out a copy of our brochure.
Our fleet of balloons are all less than 10 years old and give us the flexibility to fly smaller exclusive groups or larger family gatherings and conferences. Our balloon baskets are luxuriously padded with additional side and floor cushioning for your comfort and safety and our balloon burners are designed from the latest technology making them more powerful and considerably quieter than other burner systems.
We can fly two balloons on a morning when bookings demand giving our passengers the spectacle of another balloon flying alongside them.
Owner and Chief Pilot Damien Hays has logged more than 2,500 hours flying balloons over the Avon Valley during the past 20 years making him the Avon’s most experienced pilot. He knows the Valley like the back of his hand so he’ll be sure to provide you with the best flight path possible.
Our admirable safety record is second to none, a feat to which we are proud to maintain, but rest assured if weather conditions permit we will do our best to get you up, up and away!
We are proud to be Western Australia’s only locally owned and operated ballooning business so our profits stay right here in our beautiful State. Heather and Jenelle are based in our office right here in Northam (not the east coast) and when you meet us on the morning of your flight the owner and Chief Pilot of the business Damien Hays will be there to greet you and brief you on the morning’s activities.
Rise above the beautiful Avon Valley, there is nothing ordinary about it!
- Why aren’t you flying during the summer?
Ballooning needs cool and more importantly calm and stable conditions to be conducted safely. Western Australia’s summer weather conditions are notoriously windy and even at sunrise the winds are too strong to allow the balloons to be inflated much less be flown for an hour and landed safely at the end of the flight.
Once we get through the hot and windy summer weather conditions into some cooler autumn nights in early April the perfect conditions for ballooning come back and last through until late November, including winter time which can provide some of the best mornings for ballooning.
- When is the best time to go ballooning?
If you ask our pilots they will probably say that winter time is the best time to go ballooning in the Avon Valley. Cold, crisp (sometimes frosty) mornings are ideal for ballooning and the Avon Valley does look spectacular in winter when it is lush and green and there can often be mist patches in some of the low lying areas. This is coupled with our latest meeting times of 6.15am to be in the air at sunrise (compared with 3.45am in late Spring!), so it’s a bit of a sleep in mid-winter.
On average throughout our whole ballooning season we cancel less than 10% of our flights due to unsuitable weather conditions. So the odds of your flight being cancelled with us are quite low at any time during our season. (Although unfortunately some people will fall into this 10%). Probably the most reliable to time to fly when there is the least chance of your flight being cancelled is mid April through until mid to late May. It is often perfect flying conditions everyday during this period.
The last week or two of our season in late November is probably the most unpredictable time for ballooning as we approach the hot and windy summer weather. This is when our cancellation rate can creep higher than 10%.