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I want her job: Hot air balloonist

Balloon Sisters Atiqah and Izzati Khairudin tell us what it's like having hot air ballooning as a full-time job

By Andrea Tim | Published: 6 Dec 2016

Hot air balloonists
Atiqah and Izzati Khairudin during their training in Igulada, Spain (Photo: Balloon Sisters)

Atiqah Khairudin and Izzati Khairudin's father was a hot air balloonist, whose passion was passed down to them when they began helping him organise the annual Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta every year. But when Captain Khairudin Abd Rani died in 2012, the sisters didn't quit. They worked to expand the family business and eventually got their pilot licenses in 2015. Now, they're credited as Malaysia's first female hot air balloonists, and in October 2016, completed their Life On Air tour of Peninsular Malaysia.

It all sounds like a lot of fun – which, they tell us, is true – so we asked them what it's like to have their job.

Who are you and what do you do?
Atiqah: I'm the PR & Marketing Director at AKA Balloon. I fly in the morning and work in the office right after (the second part still revolves around hot air balloons!).
Izzati: I'm a balloonist. I also run two hot air balloon companies in Malaysia that cater to business and end-user customers.

What's a lesser-known fact about flying hot air balloons?
Atiqah: Flying a hot air balloon is totally different than any other aircraft because you can never plan where you land. We follow the wind. It is the thrill of not knowing and letting nature you wherever it wants.

What do you love about your job?
Izzati: The thing I love most about flying a balloon is that I am unable to control the direction and the flight route and that I leave my fate to nature and let it take me to unknown places.

A view of a rainforest in Kuantan (Photo: Life On Air)

Where do you usually fly?
Atiqah: We normally take off in Putrajaya and head towards Cyberjaya, but sometimes we encounter interesting paths when the wind direction changes.

Describe your typical work day.
Atiqah: I start my day at 5am, head to warehouse to meet my team and load the balloon. We take off by 7.30am and fly until 8.30am. It is always great to start your day chasing the sunrise and sweat during packing. Once done, I have breakfast before unloading the balloon in the warehouse. Then I start working in the office about 11am until 6pm. In between, three cups of coffee helps my productivity greatly!

This video was filmed during the sisters' tour in Perak with former Miss Earth Malaysia 2012, Deviyah Daranee.

What's challenging about your job?
Atiqah: Hot air ballooning is still a very niche market in Malaysia. We are still finding ways to educate the public about the mechanics. Most people don't know that it can only fly in the early morning or late evening with our tropical climate.
Izzati: Having to deal with all kinds of clients who make all sorts of requests. But it feels really good once you make everyone happy.

What do people not understand about hot air ballooning?
Izzati: People think it's all about fun and travel. I admit that's true, but they don't know the amount of work and effort and money that comes with running the business. Piloting a balloon is an amazing feeling but the pressure of being responsible for the lives of your passengers is also no joke. I didn't realise how tiring it was to concentrate during a balloon flight until I became balloonist myself.

What are the requirements to become a certified hot air balloonist?
You need to sit for an exam to obtain a balloon pilot license, but before that, you go for ground school and study five subjects (meteorology, navigation, air law, balloon specification and human performance). You must score at least 75% to pass your exam, then you can start flying; a student pilot needs to fulfil 16 hours of flying time including two solo flights.

Izzati and Atiqah with their instructor Angel Aguirre during a flight above the clouds (Photo: Balloon Sisters)

What do you both write in official forms that require you to name your occupation?
Hot Air Balloon Pilot.

What do people react when you tell them that you fly hot air balloons for a living?
Atiqah: "Wowww. Lady pilot? I didn't even know we need a pilot for a hot air balloon!"
Izzati: They'd be speechless for two seconds before saying, wide-eyed, "You what?"

How many people have you met who share the same job?
Atiqah: Many! Every year, when we host the balloon festivals in Malaysia, we have different pilots joining us from all over the world. So we build our network, and they also invite us to attend their balloon festivals back in their countries. It's a close-knit community where it is so easy to make friends and travel. But in Malaysia, there are only three of us! (My sister, and our late dad's best friend).

Would you recommend others to go down the same route?
Atiqah: Of course. In life, put doubt aside. We need to try something first, and then decide if it's the right job for you. If it gives you butterflies in your stomach just thinking about it, then you should go for it!
Izzati: Definitely! Not just ballooning but anything you're passionate about. I am very lucky to have been raised in a ballooning family and I have never regretted putting both feet in the business.

Do you ever get bored?
Atiqah: I fly hot air balloons on weekdays for work and on the weekend for fun. Being bored is out of the question.
Izzati: Not at all. I love what I do. It almost feels like you are getting paid for doing something you like.

In an alternate universe, what job would you have?
Atiqah: I would be a luxury travel writer.
Izzati: Doctor or something in fashion.

The sisters with Abdul Aziz Yusof, a hot air ballonist from Terrenganu (Photo: Balloon Sisters)


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