02 Oct 2019

Behind the Scenes - The Dedicated Few Who Manage the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

The Command Centre of the 63rd Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett 2019 - the FAI World Long Distance Gas Balloon Championship - in Montbéliard, France was buzzing.

The twenty competing teams in this race, from eleven countries, have been airborne for 24 hours with their second night approaching. They have completed their first night and would be committed to another day in their baskets to try to fulfil their strategic flight plans.

Event Director Markus Haggeney answers the phone to record that the Team Poland 2 has been forced to land on approach to Milano airspace. First team down.

Markus has earned recognition and respect in this position since his first appointment as Event Director in 1992.  He exerts a calm over his supporting officials when things prove tense.

Across the room, Pascal Joubert, ATC Co-ordinator, communicates primarily with the French ATC. Already he is on the phone to resolve a reported problem caused by incorrect reporting by one of the GB teams. Pascal does a sterling job of reassurance on behalf of the delinquent pilot. This is diplomacy at its best.

Nik Gerber has spent the previous six months contacting European countries’ ATC staff.  He has communicated the details related to fact that come September 13, 2019, there may be 20 gas balloons seeking clearance through their airspace.

Benoît Pelard Deputy Event Director commented “the Gordon Bennett gas balloon race is one of the safest to fly due to the air and ground support offered to the pilots”.

He confirms that the French Air Traffic Control had been so supportive and were often busy during the race, checking on pilots and their positions.

Benoît has been involved with the race fourteen times, including ten times as a GB pilot. Since 2017 he and his committee have worked to find a suitable location, sponsor support, then finally a focus on registration of all competitors as the event begins.

Benoît shared his observation: “It was good that some balloons flew west to keep public interested and officials busy. In general, there is a fine camaraderie between the participating pilots but once the competition starts, some fly with a knife between their teeth to win. The last shift was so exciting, full of tension as we watched Swiss 1 land at the Danube delta. Swiss 2 also provided moments to remember landing in Bulgaria”.

FAI/CIA Jury members Jean-Claude Weber, John Grubbström and Martine Besnainou are faced with two complaints. Hasse Akerstedt steps in to replace Martine as she is unavailable for final meetings to resolve the protest on awarding the bronze medal. Germany 2 claim their first point of contact and not the final resting place should be the distance. They touched down briefly then the wind blew their upright balloon back on its track giving them a shorter result to position them in 4th place. The Jury decided to take their first touchdown only meters in difference to the French result.

After 4 days and over 1700 km flown the final Jury decision is to award joint bronze to Team France 1 and Team Germany 2.

At the formal Awards dinner held at Musée de l’Aventure Peugeot, over one hundred pilot and crews salute the winners Team Swiss 1, Laurent Sciboz and Nicolas Tièche. As is FAI tradition, the FAI flag is passed by Benoît Peterle, French Host, to Mateusz Rekas, the Polish Pilot who was 2018 Gordon Bennett winner.  Poland will the host of the 2020 Gordon Bennett event.

Photo caption, from left to right: Benoît PELARD, Deputy Event Director; Caroline CHOPARD, ATC coordination; Benoît PÉTERLÉ, Safety Officer; Markus HAGGENEY, Event Director; Nikolaus GERBER, ATC Coordination