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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » December 21, 2012
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Come Fly With Us
December 21, 2012   
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Michał Nykowski, the founder and owner of Warsaw’s StacjaBalon (Balloon Station), talks to Jolanta Wolska.

Where did you get the idea to establish a Balloon Station in the heart of Warsaw?
I saw such balloons when on vacation in Berlin and Paris and I thought it would be great if Warsaw had one too. It took about 18 months to put the project together with my two business partners. We found the ideal location; close to the National Stadium, on the right side of the Vistula River near the ¦więtokrzyski Bridge. The balloon towers above the city and is visible all over Warsaw. The balloon is heaps of fun and a fantastic tourist attraction. We were up and running for the Euro 2012 soccer championships.

Is it an expensive venture?
So far it cost 2 million euros, and this includes leasing the balloon. It is made by a British company owned by Per Lindstrand, known for his record-breaking trans-oceanic hot air balloon flights and attempts to be the first to fly a Roziere balloon around the Earth. We went to Orange and convinced them that advertising on the balloon was an excellent business proposition.

We employ highly qualified pilots who have certificates to fly hot air balloons. Even though our helium balloon is less complex, we want to ensure we have the best and safest staff. Our balloon doesn’t use any fuel to become airborne and is brought down to earth by an electric motor.

Can the balloon go up in any weather and is it safe?
We are exposed to the fickleness of the weather, and we can’t go up into the air if the wind exceeds 25 knots. Generally, we should be able to fly about 200 days in a year. But for example, we expected last September to be fantastic, and yet, we couldn’t fly on all four weekends of that month due to high winds. We have very rigid safety regulations that we adhere to so that we do not endanger the lives of visitors and staff.

Such balloons are safe, they have been flying in Europe for more than 10 years and haven’t had any problems.

How high does the balloon go up and what do you see?
The balloon can go up to a maximum height of 170 meters, although optimal height for observation is about 120 meters.

The balloon can take up to 30 people. The panoramic view of Warsaw is breathtaking. Of course, the right bank is most attractive with the Old Town, Palace of Culture and Science and other landmarks, and the National Stadium looks great from the top. People love to see the Vistula River and try to count all the bridges on it, and locals try to locate where they live and see what is around their homes. Everyone walks away with a smile on their face – must be something to do with the altitude or perhaps the helium gas. Or maybe the beauty of Warsaw!

Do only the locals and tourists enjoy the balloon?
We also hire it out for special occasions on weekdays and on weekends. People are very creative and come up with all sorts of ideas. For example, we have small groups coming to a stag (or hen) party, where they bring the bridegroom-to-be blindfolded and don’t let him look until he’s up in the air. We had a case where a guy hired it for an evening, and once he was up in the balloon with his girlfriend, his mates unveiled a sign on the ground with the words “I love you – please marry me.” It was a huge sign and very romantic. Newly weds also come here to take photos, as well as artists and professional photographers. We also organize corporate events here.

The Balloon Station is not just the balloon; what are some of its other attractions?
Our weather monitoring station on site and the balloon are a fantastic facility for all to use, as we provide constant weather forecasts and wind updates, which are on our website under the slogan “Weather straight from the sky”.

We want the Orange Balloon Station to be more than just balloon rides for families and tourists. Our plans are to make it a total community and family package of attractions all year round, even when the weather is unsuitable for going up in the balloon.

In summer people were laying on deck chairs, enjoying food and drinks and watching Orange Film Screenings. We plan to have live concerts next summer. We will be opening an amazing fish restaurant, where people can have take-away fish and chips or a sit-down meal. We are planning an outdoor aeronautic museum and school excursions. In winter we will have an ice-skating rink and other snow attractions for kids free of charge. On Thursdays we will have Travellers’ Club meetings with discussions and film and photo shows. The list is endless. But of course, the Orange balloon is still the star of the show.
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