A spectacular display was on show as hundreds of hot air balloons took off for the beginning of an international festival.

The 37th International Balloon Fiesta launched in Bristol last night and will run until Sunday with half a million visitors expected. Among the 103 balloons in the sky today was one of the largest Tibetan flags, which caused a stir ahead of its first flight in the UK.  An email from the Chinese Embassy asked the organisers not to ban the balloon called Tashi, which means good fortune for Tibet. The email stressed that China did not want the event to be used as a platform for Tibet separatist activities, however, organisers of the festival refused to bow down to the protests. And pilot Heaven Crawley, 44, said it was met with a good reception. She told the MailOnline: ‘Myself and my husband (Paul Dopson) have been balloon pilots for over 10 years and we have a strong interest in Tibet. ‘We don’t know how legit the emails were, the same thing happened in France last week. There was never a worry that we wouldn’t be flying. 

‘We had 11 Tibetans who live in the area come along to see it and they got inside for pictures. It was well received and we hope to be flying it in the UK again, we just need to confirm the dates and events.’ A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said: ‘Tibet is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China, and China has sovereignty over Tibet. 

‘This is a position upheld by all countries in the world including the UK government. China is firmly opposed to any political activity for “Tibet independence”.’

The festival features four days of displays by hot air balloons from across the world. Balloons soar from the Ashton Court estate at dawn and dusk, taking in glorious views of the city including the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The world’s first solar-powered hybrid hot air balloon, funded by Bristol 2015, is taking part to mark the city’s status as European Green Capital. Developed by Cameron Balloons, it is powered by the sun and by a conventional propane burner.

A total of 103 balloons take part in the festival, including some shaped as Stuart the Minion, the Ricoh Cube, a frog and a pair of Power Rangers. The Power Rangers balloons feature the red and pink Mighty Morphin Power Rangers helmets.

‘The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is a weekend of non-stop family fun, which is a perfect fit for Saban’s Power Rangers brand,’ said Gustavo Antonioni, managing director of consumer products EMEA at Saban Brands. ‘

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers are a pop culture phenomenon and we think fans of all ages are going to love seeing the larger-than-life red and pink ranger balloons flying high in the sky.’

As part of the festival, the Exit Parachute Display Team will perform stunts in the arena, and the Battle of Britain’s Spitfire and Hurricane planes and the Breitling Wingwalkers will fly past spectators tomorrow. A night glow, in which balloons are illuminated in time to music, will take place before a firework display over the estate at 9.15pm tomorrow. On Sunday, the Battle of Britain planes will return with military parachute display team the RAF Falcons performing at 4pm.