Balloon firm searches for site

By David Porter -
An AB20 Tethered Helium Balloon in operation overseas.
An AB20 Tethered Helium Balloon in operation overseas.

Rotorua could be the site of the first tethered helium balloon tourist venture in New Zealand, provided the company behind the idea can find a suitable base for its operations.

Thomas Kaminski set up Kiwi Rider in March, with financial backing for a first installation from private investors. The company has bought an American-built 20-passenger AB20 Tethered Helium Balloon and estimates the operation could handle up to 1000 people a day, lifting them to 150m.

Thomas Kaminski.
Thomas Kaminski.

"With the backing of the Rotorua Lakes Council and the Gifted Reserves Committee, we were planning to open our first operation in September at either Kuirau Park or Government Gardens," said Mr Kaminski.

However, a meeting last week with officials, representatives of the Rescue Helicopter and commercial air space users, revealed that an operation in the central city area would compromise the safe operations of Rotorua airport, as well as the helicopter.

Grow Rotorua chief executive Francis Pauwels said there was strong support for the balloon idea so long as it was safe with other airspace users.

"It really adds a new dimension to what Rotorua offers and should appeal to all age groups and visitors," said Mr Pauwels. "The next challenge is to find the ideal site that works for the business."

The company is now looking for alternative locations of at least 50sq m in the wider Rotorua area.

Kiwi Rider hopes to either lease suitable space or partner alongside a compatible tourist business.

Mr Kaminski first heard about the system in 2014. But he discovered that his proposed operation would fall under the same category as un-tethered balloons, which are classified as aircraft by the NZ Civil Aviation Authority.

He challenged the classification and in October 2015 received a ruling that tethered balloons could be classified as "amusement devices".

The winch and retrieval system have already arrived and are in storage in Rotorua. The 20-passenger gondola is expected to arrive in Auckland early next month. The balloon is currently in production and is expected to arrive in July.

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