Early morning balloon rides through the region's otherworldly landscape have long been a hallmark of Turkey's tourism industry, and roughly 300,000 tourists are thought to take to Cappadocia's skies every year.
“It is our hope that a safer and higher standard of flying will result from the [Civil Aviation General Directorate] SHGM's development of a monitoring system,” said Bilal Ekşi, head of the SHGM, in an interview with the Anatolia news agency.
Ekşi laments that the regions where the balloons take flight are difficult to monitor and thus seldom regulated. For this reason, explained Ekşi, the remote monitor of balloons through a variety of fixed cameras and GPS taggers will be necessary to bring Cappadocia's sometimes wayward balloons under control.
“We undertook a project with the Turkish Statistics Institute [TurkStat]. The project is to follow the balloons with GPS devices,” Ekşi explained. “With the help of GPS systems that we put on the balloons, we will be able to follow online when the balloons take off, where they are flying and how fast they are going.”
Growing risk in a growing industry
While the balloon companies operating in Cappadocia are generally known to have safe flying records, the rapidly expanding nature of the industry and the recent death of a British tourist in a crash have driven the government to impose more regulation.
In May 2009 two hot air balloons collided in mid-air during a routine morning flight. One of the balloons crashed 50 meters to the ground, an accident that left English physicist Kevin Beurle dead and nine others injured.
The crash came as a shock to the industry, which had previously boasted an accident-free history. Furthermore, regulators could find few indicators of neglect or failure following the accident. Neither the company -- Kapadokya Balloons -- nor the balloon's pilot, who had over eight years of experience prior to the crash, was found to be guilty of misconduct.
Now that the skies above Cappadocia are more crowded than ever, regulators worry about the possibility of yet another collision. “While in 2006 there were 43 balloons, today there are 127,” Ekşi explained, urging that more oversight will be necessary to ensure safe skies.
Keeping the tourist trade
The SHGM's promises for active monitoring have been met with warm responses from Cappadocia's tourism community.
Göreme Mayor Nuri Cingil told Anatolia that all necessary steps should be taken to ensure the safety of the balloon industry, adding that “as regional authorities our job is to support the balloon sector. In tourism there is no place for mistakes or wasting time.”
Cappadocia's balloons attract thousands of tourists every year, and it is estimated that in peak summer months 1,500-2,000 tourists ride the balloons every day.