ast month, Australia’s first disabled access basket was launched over the Melbourne CBD, allowing quadriplegic Michael Forbes and leg amputee Darren Cummins 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 Easy Access Basket (EAB) has a door allowing less-abled individuals to enter and exit with ease.
The endeavour began when Global Ballooning’s Kiff Saunders, who was himself seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in January 2010, started the long road of rehabilitation, fearing that he might never again be able to return to being a commercial balloon pilot.
While in rehab, Kiff met with TAC solicitors Peter Burt and 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, the seed was sown to build a balloon that allowed disabled clients of their firm Burt & Davies (and, subsequently, everyone) to experience a ‘lighter than air’ balloon flight over Melbourne.
This project required a ‘first of type’ balloon basket to be designed, constructed by the Australian Balloon manufacturer and certified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Global Ballooning has also had to amend its operations procedures by providing a ‘safety case’ to CASA and applying for an exemption against the regulations prohibiting flight of ‘handicapped persons’ in commercial hot air balloon operations.
“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,” Mr Saunders says.
“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 says: “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.”