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A moment with Markus Haggeny, FAI Secretary General

Markus Haggeny, FAI Secretary General. Photo by FAI

It is apparent that Markus Haggeny has a heart full of love for air sports. He is passionate about it and its participants’ safety especially during this time of the COVID-19 crisis. But don’t take our word for it, read on below to find out more about this magnanimous man.

Clark Hot Air Balloon Festival 2019, The Philippines. Photo: writer’s own.

Markus Haggeny was named as the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Secretary General on 15 April 2020. He was appointed as the Acting Secretary General in December 2019. He is not new to the Federation though – he was the Sports & Event Director, a role he held from 2014.

If you are wondering what he does exactly at the FAI, here are some words of introduction by Markus Haggeny himself –

“As the newly appointed Secretary General of the FAI, the World Air Sports Federation, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, I’m responsible for the smooth running of the FAI Office, which is charged with the day-to-day operations of the Federation. Together, the FAI staff, officials and volunteers strive to fulfill FAI’s mission to promote air sports and recreational flying around the world. This includes the ratification of world and continental records, and the sanctioning of competitions.”

Air sports from an early age

Markus brings with him an “extensive international corporate experience, which gives me the valuable insight into the business world that is so vital for International Federations today.” This is on top of his years of experience as a pilot and air sports official.

If you caught the word “pilot” in the previous paragraph, you will be forgiven if you thought that Markus Haggeny was an airplane pilot. His first foray into air sports was on a hot air balloon.

Paragliding at Jugra Hill, Malaysia. Photo: writer’s own

“‘Vocation’ is the first word that springs to mind. I developed a lifelong interest in all things flying when I was a kid, thanks to my family’s involvement in hot air balloons – my father had been flying for many years when I first set foot in a basket. That’s why I can say that training to become a Ballooning pilot came very naturally for me.

One thing led to another, and I began competing. Not long after, I was keen to take an even more active role in the ballooning community, and I organised numerous events, and represented Germany in ballooning for many years: In 2014 I joined the sports department of the FAI Office and now, at 60, my enthusiasm for flying remains unchanged, so much so that I have recently started Paragliding, which I thoroughly enjoy. Air sports are for anyone, at any age!” he happily enthused.   

FAI and COVID-19

Now with the appearance of the coronavirus and the world adapting to a new normal he says the FAI is changing the way they approach things.

“Stabilisation and consolidation are the key words at the moment. Given this unprecedented Coronavirus situation, it is more important than ever that we, the elected representatives, staff and officials, fly through the turbulence as a united front. Similarly, I think that now, more than ever, is the time to nurture the bonds within the air sports community, to strengthen the relationships with all the officials and members, and to support those that need assistance. These are the priorities right now,” he says.

When asked about how COVID-19 has changed the landscape of air sports worldwide, he says, “Unfortunately, 2020 is a peculiar year for everyone, including all those involved in sports. For example, at this time of the year, our events calendar is usually packed with hundreds of championships and regional events involving thousands of pilots and skydivers around the world. Sadly, many of these competitions had to be postponed or cancelled because of the pandemic: the paramount concern of FAI and our event organisers is public health and safety.”

Making a joint effort

He also says that “Uncertainty is our main challenge here. Nobody knows how the situation will evolve, how fast the situation will improve, or even when the pilots will be able to train properly again. We have to stay flexible and to adapt to whatever challenge is thrown at us, like the rest of the world. I am sure that our global air sports community will adapt to the many challenges that society is faced with.”

His remark was in response to what kind of changes on future air sports events will be organised. But all is not lost though as there are already plans in place.

“In this difficult context, I am pleased to say that FAI and the air sports community is making an extraordinary joint effort to overcome this crisis. We are developing new tools to work together remotely more efficiently, and we are supporting the event organisers as best we can, so they can find solutions to hold their events at a later date,” he says.

The Olympics

When asked about the inclusion of air sports in the Olympic Games, he is frank with his answer.

“This is not our prime focus, given the current state of affairs. However, FAI is a proud member of the Olympic Family and we share the values of the Olympic Movement, even when not participating in the Games,” he says.

“The Olympic Games is a wonderful event that we would be honoured to be part of. At this moment in time, we are proud of our status of IOC-recognised Federation,” he added.

This pride goes back full circle with his involvement with FAI, as it gives him the opportunity to not only practice but to promote air sports at the same time. He says, “This makes me happy to get up every day.”

To all of the air sports athletes out there itching to fly again, he has these words of advice:

“Please stay home, practice social distancing and stay healthy. In aviation we say: ‘Take off is optional, landing is mandatory’. The message being – make wise decisions, be aware of your responsibility to and for others and look ahead to the future. We will fly in safe conditions again together soon.”

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