Every January, the small town of Mondovi in north west Italy hosts pilots flying balloons ahead of the new ballooning season here in the UK.
But what is so special about this pretty comune in the Piedmonte region that sees hot air balloon pilots flocking back each year?
The secret is its near-perfect hot air ballooning weather conditions throughout the year – making it the perfect place to carry out the annual flight checks required by all commercial pilots.
Sheltered on three sides by the Swiss and French Alps and sitting 1,200ft above sea level, these ideal conditions are why Virgin Balloon Flights pilots have been visiting every winter for the past 18 years.
This January our pilots were put through their paces by examiners from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority during a full-on week of checks and training.
Pilot Steve Richards, our pilot for Surrey and Hampshire, has been a regular Mondovi attendee during his career flying balloons for Virgin Balloon Flights.
“These flight checks are an important part of our yearly flying calendar and test everything from our passenger safety procedures, our flying skills and our response to a possible emergency situation,” he said.
“All of us came through the checks in quick order and, thanks to some of the best flying conditions possible, there was time for additional training and experience flights.
“Because even the most experienced hot air balloon pilot knows there is always more to learn.”
While some of our pilots carry out their annual flight checks here in the UK, the majority choose to head out to Mondovi if they can.
“As well as the ideal flying climate, it’s also a chance for us to catch up with each other in person,” said Steve.
“Because we’re each based in a different area back home, from Cornwall right up to Scotland, it’s really great to meet up with your fellow pilots in a relaxed atmosphere.”
It’s no wonder the Mondovi week has become a firmly established part of the Virgin Balloon Flights calendar.
The UK’s hot air balloon flying season begins in March, when our iconic big red balloons will be back skies for 2018.
See you in the skies!