JEDDAH: The first Saudi to become a licensed hot air balloon pilot in the Kingdom is ready to give back to the community after his “blessed and lucky” three-year training experience.
The July 27 certification of Abdulrahman Saleh Al-Wohaibi by the Saudi General Civil Aviation Authority marked the completion of a goal that began in Australia in 2019.
He told Arab News that his dream of becoming a hot air balloonist came true as he completed his master’s degree in Australia three years ago.
“I remember that day in 2019. I was watching a group of hot air balloons slowly drifting across the sky. The beauty of seeing the balloons move peacefully almost serenely on the horizon is what hooked me the most. I was so close that I could hear the sound of its spectacular gas burner as it filled the balloon with hot air,” Al-Wohaibi said.
Al-Wohaibi has always had a fondness for high altitudes and had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering, as well as another bachelor’s degree in airworthiness management.
“I was very curious about the balloon experience, although I have been on many other adventure experiences, this one was the most beautiful; it was so peaceful,” he said.
From that day in 2019, Al-Wohaibi was inspired to explore the culture and history of ballooning and embark on his training journey.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and more importantly it’s what I want to share with my loved ones in the Kingdom,” he said.
Al-Wohaibi holds two private pilot licenses: one for fixed-wing aircraft, issued by the United Kingdom in 2015, and another issued by Australia in 2019.
In 2020 he was licensed to fly hot air balloons by the Australian Balloon Federation as well as the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
Completing his training and getting his registration “was indeed an honor and allowed me to explore more and gain new experience”, Al-Wohaibi said.
He passed the Australian test on his first attempt and completed training in just five weeks, breaking the record for the fastest training time in the country.
“Completing the course on such a tight deadline was a difficult achievement; normally trainees took up to 12 months to complete the course. However, I am very grateful for all the support from the family as the training site was three hours away which put a strain on my family and I was also doing my masters,” he said.
“I feel so blessed and lucky to have learned to fly with Australian National Champion Paul Gibbs in the high country of Victoria State in Australia. Gibbs is a very accomplished pilot, with many awards and qualifications in the hot air balloon area.
Al-Wohaibi is certified to fly larger balloons carrying up to 36 passengers and is authorized to travel to airports accessible by air. ” he said.
And Al-Wohaibi is now ready to give back to his country and his community by introducing the people of the Kingdom to the culture of hot air ballooning, so that they can see the natural beauty of the Saudi landscapes in peace.
“I want to transfer the knowledge and experiences I have acquired for the benefit of those interested in this sport in the Kingdom,” he said.
Al-Wohaibi also wants to train new pilots and start a tourist flight business, thus contributing to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
As the tourism sector expands in Saudi Arabia, Al-Wohaibi had the chance earlier this year to fly at a hot air balloon show in AlUla.
The event was part of the AlUla Skies festival, which featured more than 150 hot air balloon flights over the ancient site.
“I can see the drastic development of tourism and sports happening, and I think hot air ballooning is a significant contribution for sure,” Al-Wohaibi said.
One of his main ambitions in the future is to own a personal balloon, allowing flights through the “best places” of the Kingdom and sharing the experience with his friends and family.
“Having a good understanding of the weather, especially local weather and idiosyncrasies, is crucial. Saudi Arabia has a very diverse weather environment, which in itself is a satisfying challenge,” Al-Wohaibi said.
“I will launch from different cities in the Kingdom. I am also interested in participating in as many international balloon events and competitions, nationally and internationally.
The first hot air balloon experience was brought to Saudi Arabia in AlUla in 2019.