SAHAB program is the first in the Middle East to train hot air balloon pilots, enables trainees to obtain a certified license from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency
JEDDAH: Colorful hot air balloons decorated the daytime skies of AlUla, sailing over its archaeological sites as the country’s first hot air balloon pilots also took flight.
The hot air balloon show is part of the AlUla Skies Festival, which is being organized by Saudia Airlines and runs from Feb. 27 to March 12.
The 150 balloons will give visitors a rich and adventurous travel experience by flying them over AlUla to enjoy views of the stunning desert terrain, where they can see ancient archaeological sites and volcanic plains.
Two of the balloons are captained by trained pilots from the Saudi Arabian Hot Air Ballooning Federation.
Hussain Makkawi and Afrah Al-Harbi are the first licensed Saudi hot air balloon pilots in the country. They are also the first graduates from the SAHAB training program.
Makkawi, 32, works at the General Authority of Civil Aviation and said he had been supported by SAHAB to acquire his hot air balloon pilot license.
“I sought to fly but, even more importantly, it was an incredible opportunity for me to be one of the first Saudi hot air balloon pilots. It was, as they say, a no-brainer,” he told Arab News.
Up above in the sky, he is unafraid of heights. “I’m generally a person who enjoys peace and quietness, and that’s what got me attached to the air balloon. The smooth flying experience and the sense of peacefulness in the air balloon are priceless.
“Flying in a hot air balloon, as anyone who’s tried it, is a quite mesmerizing experience.”
The SAHAB program is the first in the Middle East to train hot air balloon pilots. It enables trainees to obtain a certified license from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.
It also enables them to participate in international events, as well as obtain memberships to take part in hot air balloon sporting activities.
Makkawi said the program had helped him to explore many topics like “meteorology, human performance, how the human body is affected by flying, navigation, details about the operation, materials, maintenance, and emergency procedures for the balloon.”
The program also has a practical part that includes pre-flight preparations and weather condition briefings, flight planning, balloon assembly and inflation, taking off, in-route flying altitudes, landing, and packing the balloon.
“My first time riding the air balloon was during my training period in the Netherlands. It was in June 2020 and I was hooked from the moment we took off,” Makkawi said.
He is aiming to obtain a commercial license so he can operate larger balloons.
“The initial license allows me to fly smaller category balloons, but, after accumulating a certain number of flying hours, I can start to operate larger balloons and that’s the goal.”
Flying in different places around the world is one of Makkawi’s dreams.
“I love to travel and explore,” he said.
Visitors to AlUla can choose from a tethered balloon, an untethered one, or they can come in the evening to witness the “Glow Show,” which entered the Guinness World Record for the longest line of illuminated balloons “dancing” to music.