It was in the year 1994 when then Secretary of Tourism Mina Gabor, with the support of a few foreign investors, spearheaded the first-ever Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival. It was a novel way of reviving tourism in Central Luzon, and stimulate the economy, after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption of 1991 devastated the province.
The bold idea literally flew high in every aspect, and despite a two year hiatus in due to the Asian financial crisis in 1999, the event has since earned the reputation as the Philippines’ first, foremost and longest-running international sports aviation event.
This year, the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival (PIHABF) marks 19th year, and is all set for another historic weekend of “everything that flies.”
This year’s PIHABF is set on February 12 to 15 at the Philippine Air Force ADAC Hangar in Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga.
Earlier this year, a memorandum of agreement to hold the annual balloon fiesta was signed by Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) president Arnel Casanova, Clark Development Corporation (CDC) president Arthur Tugade, Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) president, (then) chief executive officer Victor Jose Luciano, and Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Foundation Inc. (PIHABF) president Capt. Joy Roa at the Asian Air Safari hangar in Pasay City.
Four full days of flying activities—including hot air ballooning, aerobatic exhibitions, skydiving, powered paragliding, aviation formation, search and rescue flight demonstrations, and balloon bursting, among other aviation spectacles—await attendees and participants to the highly anticipated event.
This year’s highlights include a total of 32 hot air balloons participating from all over the world, with special-shaped balloons featuring Old MacDonald’s Farm, Maximus the Beagle Dog, Burnie the Little Devil, Upside Down Balloon, Miss Daisy, Old Lady & the Shoe, Little Girl and Little Boy, Pink Elephant, Octopus, and Vincent Van Gogh, among a host of colorful traditional balloons.
After the 6 a.m. balloon launch, attendees can also look forward to non-stop flying exhibitions which include skydiving, motorized paragliding, aerobatics, formation flying, radio-controlled model flights, kite-flying, and rocketry, before the balloons fly in again at 5:45 in the afternoon, weather-permitting.
Activities are not only limited skyward, as the festival grounds are also brimming with fun for the whole family. Watch car-drifting exhibitions while airplanes try to drop flour bombs overhead; catch firefighting and safety demonstrations by the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC); discover unique goods and food finds at the “Fly Market;” catch top OPM bands perform onstage courtesy of Radio Republic; for would-be aviators, visit the displays of various aviation schools; learn more about birds and other animal species at the Zoocobia mini zoo; and for lovers, attend a free Valentines Concert staged by Jeepney TV on the third fiesta night, which falls on Valentine’s Day. A fireworks display and nightglow culminates the four-day event the following evening.
Beauty for a cause
As part of this year’s activities, PIHABF also launched the search for Miss Aviation. First staged in the 1970s, this one-of-a-kind beauty pageant aims to promote, advocate and inspire the youth to take up a career in aviation, and support the country’s local tourism efforts. Twenty female aviation students and professionals will vie for the title, which will be awarded on February 10 at the Annual Aviator’s Ball to be held at The Peninsula Manila.
An outstanding pilot will also be receiving the Aviator of the Year Award during the Annual Aviator’s Ball which is a recognition given to aviators who have made outstanding contributions in upgrading the standards of safety and aviation interests in their regions. Other recognitions to be awarded during the event are: Fixed Wing Pilot of the Year, Helicopter Pilot of the Year, Flight Instructor of the Year, Female Pilot of the Year, CAAP Check Pilot of the Year, CAAP Controller of the Year and Aircraft Mechanic of the Year.
According to Captain Joy Roa, event director, the fiesta is a platform for improving the country’s aviation standing through collaboration and interaction with international aviators. “We have so much to learn from our foreign counterparts, and this fiesta is an opportunity to share and exchange cultures and ideas. Of course, this is also a chance for us to showcase the world renowned Filipino hospitality,” he said.
The PIHABF organizing committee is composed of volunteer aviation experts and industry practitioners who make sure that the fiesta is carefully planned and safety-oriented.
Roa added, “Despite the challenges and the setbacks, we are dogged in our determination to mount this event year after year because more than a spectacle, this is an advocacy for us. We want to educate everyone, especially the youth, about the beauty of aviation and the many life lessons we can learn from it.”
For more information log on to www.philballoonfest.net