Michael Maja, who grew up watching hot air balloons float high above the clouds, always had a passion to also be up in the sky steering the basket.
So determined to achieve his dream that Maja, who is based in Gauteng, dropped his law studies to eventually pursue his dream.
He started out helping the ground crew and has also worked in the sales department.
Today, Maja has become a proud first black hot air balloon pilot to come out of the Bill Harrops Balloon Safari in Skeerpoort near Magalies.
Maja received his private pilot’s licence in February and had his first celebratory flight recently.
The 27-year-old has always loved flying, however, he felt he needed to have an education qualification that he could fall back on.
“As much as I grew up exposed to this, I did not think it was a sustainable career. I think that is what most people do not know,” Maja said.
“There maybe information about the aviation industry, however, there is not enough information about hot air ballooning as a career.”
Speaking to Sunday World recently, Maja said he compromised his law studies because he did not feel fulfilled.
He described his new journey as interesting, sharing that it took him 100 hours to achieve his commercial pilot badge.
He started off with an instructor, he explained, noting that each day and lesson was different.
He said as a hot air balloon pilot, many things need to be considered including weather conditions, where the balloon will land, and the people whose lives you hold in your hands.
Maja’s best moment was being able to pilot his mother up in the skies.
“Flying with my mother is one of the special flights I ever had, because I never imagined anything like that to be possible. It was surreal,” he said.
Going forward, he said he is taking things one step at a time to get to the next level of his career.
He further said he would not have achieved the milestone without the support of the people around him.
“My first 100 flights took time to sink in, I am in awe of what I have achieved so far. I am motivated by making my parents proud, but mostly myself.
“I received so much support and I am grateful.”
Dale de Klerk, the CEO at Bill Harrops, expressed his joy at Maja’s achievement.
“We are so proud of Michael’s accomplishment and we look forward to producing more successful hot air balloon pilots with the support and resources we have,” said De Klerk.