Wickers World was formed back in the late eighties by current directors, Andy Rawson and Jon Rudoni. Already flying balloons commercially (most notably the National Garden Festival and Maltesers balloons), Andy and Jon identified a growing interest in the pleasure flights market. Says Jon, “wherever we landed, people would come out to see the balloons, and the first question on everybody’s lips was ‘how can I get a ride?’ So we soon realised that there was a market for commercial pleasure flights, but what we didn’t expect was just how popular they would become!”
After qualifying as unrestricted group B commercial pilots, Andy and Jon were able to expand the business into the public transport category, where previously they had only been involved with flying advertising balloons. Demand soon outstripped supply, and the company’s fleet of balloons began to grow, along with the fleet of recovery vehicles, staff, pilots and premises!
Andy Rawson, still the company Chief Pilot recalls, ‘this was one of the few occasions when we had managed to get on the band-wagon as it set off! Balloon flights were a rapidly growing industry, and we were in at the beginning. I was asked to become a director of our newly formed trade body, the British Association of Balloon Operators, and our business was growing at an extraordinary rate….’
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority, who control all non-military aviation in the UK, were also on a steep learning curve as far as ballooning was concerned. Not quite sure of how to handle this small but determined group of aviators, the CAA quickly took control and set extremely high standards for both pilots and operating companies. As a result, our commercial pilots are treated in much the same way as any other airline pilot, with regular flying tests, CAA aircrew medical examinations, flight time limitations (restricting the hours flown in a given period, thus ensuring that the pilot is ‘fit’ to fly), type ratings on specific balloon sizes, and all manner of other hoops to jump through!