6 Jan 2013

Balloonists 'struggling' to attract customers

2:28 pm on 6 January 2013

Almost a year on from a fatal crash in Wairarapa, balloonists are struggling to convince passengers and sponsors that they are safe to fly.

Monday marks the first anniversary of the crash in Carterton in which a sightseeing balloon collided with power lines and caught fire, killing all 11 people on board.

Carterton balloonist Rick Walczak says since the accident, he has struggled to secure sponsorship for events in New Zealand and overseas, as companies are worried that it is not safe.

Mr Walczak says commercial sightseeing companies in Hamilton and Christchurch have also had difficulty attracting customers.

"Business is starting to come back again from Hamilton ... I hope it is not too late for the South Island people, because they're really good operators down there, really switched on. They have struggled after this accident, I know that."

However, he is confident that a Transport Accident Investigation Commission report into the disaster, expected to be released mid-year, will not reveal wider problems with ballooning and will help business pick up.

An interim report released by the commission last year revealed that the pilot, Lance Hopping, had cannabis in his system and the balloon was not airworthy due to problems with its maintenance.

A special memorial for the victims of the January 2012 disaster is to be held in Carterton on Monday.