Hot air balloons took to the sky in early August 2019 as the Old West Balloon Fest hosted the US Nationals Hot Air Balloon Championships of the Balloon Federation of America. 2019 was the fifth year for the festival and the first time the Balloon Federation of America brought its national competition to western Nebraska. The competition will also be held in the area for 2020 and 2021.
Hot air balloons are a unique part of aviation that create excitement and attract attention. Balloons have been around since 1783 and were the first successful flight technology with the ability to carry humans. More than six million spectators across the globe attend balloon events, making it more popular than any other outdoor summer activity.
Johnson said that in past years, the Balloon Federation of American has done market surveys on the impact their event had in host communities. With pilots staying for an entire week, the event brings in an average of $1.2 million. “That’s a lot for our community,” Johnson said.
In the United States, balloon pilots must have a commercial pilot certificate to carry paying passengers and attend most balloon festivals. Those who are FAA certified can also act as hot air balloon flight instructors and can fly passenger sightseeing tours or corporate advertising balloons.