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Unlikely Partnership Gives "Rise" to Australian First
In May 2012 Australia's first disabled access basket was launched over the Melbourne CBD*. Passengers on this flight included quadriplegic Michael Forbes and leg amputee Darren Cummins. Michael suffered a severe spinal cord injury (SCI), with incomplete quadriplegia, as the result of a transport accident. He is largely confined to a wheelchair. Darren had his lower limb amputated in a motorcycle accident. Despite these debilitating injuries both Michael and Darren have shown amazing resilience and with an indelible spirit, have continued to move forward with their lives. The disabled basket will enable both, along with members of their family, to experience the joy of a hot air balloon flight
Unlike traditional balloon baskets that require passengers to climb in and out over the edge, the innovative Easy Access Basket (EAB) incorporates a door to allow less-abled individuals, including those with serious physical disabilities to enter and exit the basket with ease. The EAB also incorporates customised seating, seat belts and grab handle suspended from the burner frame.
The circumstances, which led to the disabled balloon project being undertaken, began when Kiff himself was involved in a horrific motorcycle accident in January 2010. He sustained life-threatening injuries, which threatened his ability to continue as a commercial balloon pilot. As he entered the long road of rehabilitation he feared as he learnt to walk again that might never again be able to return to being a commercial balloon pilot.
While in rehab - Kiff met with TAC solicitors Peter Burt & Clara Davies who began acting for him in his no-fault TAC compensation claim. Having never represented a client from the world of ballooning they embarked on research into the ‘day in the life' of a balloonist. This involved experiencing a flight over Melbourne and many discussions about what is involved. At some point over these discussions a bond was formed and the seed was sown to build a balloon that allowed disabled clients of Burt and Davies (and subsequently everyone) to experience a ‘lighter than air' balloon flight over Melbourne.
Global Ballooning and Burt & Davies have now jointly funded the design and production of Australia's first disabled commercial passenger balloon. It is an innovative and altruistic joint venture intended to provide happiness to those who would otherwise be denied.
This project has required a ‘first of type' balloon basket to be designed, constructed by the Australian Balloon manufacturer and certified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Global Ballooning has also had to amend it's operations procedures by providing a ‘safety case' to CASA and also applying for an exemption against the regulations prohibiting flight of ‘handicapped persons' in commercial hot air balloon operations.
To quote Kiff Saunders, Owner and Chief Pilot of Global Ballooning - "Although it is a highly unlikely partnership - a transport accident law firm and an adventure based aviation company - I strongly believe that things happen for a purpose - the fact that we have come together through highly unfortunate circumstances and yet have found a common and wonderful objective - makes complete sense of what could otherwise be considered a complete bloody disaster ".
Managing partner, Clara Davies, stated "A lot of things come to an end for our clients after an accident. Life as they once knew it is no longer. We consistently see our clients seek to regain a sense of normality; they are desperate to re-engage with life and to challenge themselves as much as possible. The three of us realised that there was an incredible opportunity to do something positive and we immediately began work to make it a reality."