ORGANISERS of the National Ballooning Championships in Northam expect visitor numbers to soar in a week of thrills over the Avon Valley.
All eyes will look skywards when 30 pilots head up and away in hot air balloons to navigate wind speeds and altitudes from tomorrow until September 9.
The event launch on Saturday will open with a free family fiesta and an after-dark display of glowing balloons and fireworks set to music.
Co-ordinator Donna Tasker said interest in the 2017 championships indicated the event would be bigger than before.
The commercial pilot is home from Myanmar (Burma) after a six-month stint flying hot air balloons over the temples of Bagan and a change of pace at the championships hosted by Northam Aero Club.
“Northam is the only place in WA where hot air balloons are flown throughout winter months and spring is the season for pilots to fly over our beautiful Avon Valley,” she said.
The 45-year-old from Boya said the winner of the national event would compete in the 2018 world championships in Austria.
Pilots from Hong Kong, Japan and Russia will compete against the nation’s best in challenges culminating in a quidditch-like test where pilots fly from point to point collecting foam keys from the ends of 10-metre poles.
Competitors fly daily from sunrise to 9am, when the weather is usually calmer, and in the afternoon from 4-5pm.
WA won the rights to stage the championships with the support of the State Government’s regional tourism program, Royalties for Regions and the Shire of Northam.
The attraction is expected to generate more than $1.8 million in visitor income to the region.
In 2015 the event had a huge effect on regional tourism, with reports of booked-out accommodation in Northam, York and Toodyay, with restaurants, cafes and other tourism attractions well patronised over the busy period.
Ms Tasker said organisers relied on the co-operation of local farmers to allow competitors to take off and land on their property.
“Our friendly farmers support the championships hugely because balloons only fly where the wind takes them; you can’t steer a balloon. Pilots depend on the weather to stay airborne and every day is different,” she said.
Northam brothers Andrew, Peter and Michael Clements, Northam local Sven Tetlow and Peter Stephenson from Wembley will represent WA at the nationals.
Ms Tasker and Damian Hays will pilot passenger flights in the Asthma and Windward Adventure balloons and a few spots are still available.
Third-generation pilot Ryan Bristow-Stagg from Northam will join mentor pilots to provide local knowledge and guidance to the visiting pilots.
More than 11,000 spectators visited the region in 2015 when Northam last hosted the event. Visit Northam Nationals on Facebook for latest flight plans and www.northamnationals.com for other details.