Nothing captivates the imagination quite like hot air ballooning. Most of us have a childhood infatuation with the idea of floating through the morning skies, dancing in the rays of the early morning sun and drifting high above the world detached from reality.
Hot air ballooning is the world’s oldest form of aviation and the first human beings to fly did so in 1783 in a balloon.
It goes without saying then, that we have had a long time to evolve the art of ballooning.
The equipment used and methods employed have come quite a long way since the first ever hot air balloon flight by the Montgolfier brothers over Paris on 21 November 1783.
The general public often doubts the safety of these incredible floating contraptions, mainly due to the lack of understanding of the science behind how they work as well as the high levels of media coverage a ballooning incident can receive.
Upon investigating ballooning safety records and individual accidents, one would realise that:
Every activity comes with its risks, ballooning has to be one of the safest forms of aviation, if not the safest.
At its core, a hot air balloon is a nylon bag that is filled by hot air created by burning liquid propane with a burner(s). More heat makes the balloon rise, and less heat causes it to descend.
Balloons have not motors, not rudders and no mechanical components, and rely on wind direction for manoeuvring, and pilots have a surprising amount of control over their height and direction of travel, with very little reliance on the balloon itself (unlike an aeroplane or helicopter that relies on hundreds of instrumental and mechanical components).
In a balloon, you float like a feather through the sky, drifting at the speed of the wind around you (an important factor as pilots only fly within strict wind speed thresholds. Not enough or too much wind would make it unsafe to fly, and experienced operators know this).
Unlike an aeroplane crash that would involve high speeds and plummeting to the Earth, a hot air balloon is like a giant parachute. Even if the hot air balloon ran out of fuel, the pilot would be able to drift the balloon slowly back down to the Earth’s surface in a controlled descent.
The more experienced the pilot, the less likely are the chances of an accident.
The most common cause of ballooning incidents comes from power lines. Power lines are very hard to spot and most collisions with a power line can cause a serious accident.
Fortunately these are very rare because of the processes and procedures experienced pilots and companies employ. Experienced ballooning operators do not fly in low visibility weather (heavy fog and rain) that makes it hard to spot power lines, and accidents that involve power lines usually stem from irresponsible operators flying in bad weather.
Hot air ballooning safety comes hand in hand with the experience of the pilot in charge.
Australia (as well as the USA and UK) have very strict and measured regulations that govern commercial hot air ballooning. Commercial pilots must have an Air Operators Certificate from the Australian Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA), which means that a commercial hot air balloon pilot may have to have as much if not more training than a commercial helicopter pilot.
All registered hot air balloons must be regularly inspected by authorised inspectors, and Australian ballooning safety standards are some of the strictest and comprehensive in the world.
Global Ballooning Australia operates one of Australia's few CASA certified commercial balloon flying training facilities. Nearly all balloon pilots flying over Melbourne have come through our flying school or training facilities, as have many pilots flying balloons around Australia. We also have our own CASA approved maintenance workshop allowing us the facility to conduct regular checks on all our aircraft. The good news for you is we are constantly under CASA review through their periodic audit program which maintains the highest standards of procedures.
Our impeccable safety record is due to our commitment to operate Australia's best maintained fleet of balloons. Our Maintenance Manager, Barry Ward has attended maintenance courses at the two leading balloon manufacturers Cameron Balloons in Bristol, England and Kavanagh Balloons in Sydney.
Our Director, Kiff Saunders is a delegate of CASA and is responsible for the issuing of commercial balloon pilot licenses in Australia. He is highly regarded within the industry and holds the highest possible qualifications in ballooning. He has also been inducted into the Australian Ballooning Federation Hall of Fame.
Global Ballooning Australia maintains close links with international and national ballooning affiliated governing bodies. We are constantly discussing and updating our practices to reflect the best outcome for safe operations.
This all means that our passengers can rest assured they are enjoying their ballooning experience with one of the safest and most professional companies in the country.
As we’ve been through above, there is a very strong argument to label hot air ballooning as the safest form of aviation, but it can even be compared to day to day activities like driving or going for a morning run, and still come out on top statistically as the safest activity of the lot.
Despite there being some risk associated with it, what doesn’t involve some degree of risk?
If you do your homework and can be sure that the operator you are choosing to fly with is experienced, registered, employs pilots with extensive flights logged, and operates well within the local aviation authority’s regulations, then you can rest assured that you are in safe hands.
Hot air ballooning is such a beautiful and one of a kind experience that brings joy to so many people every morning, that it would be a shame to dismiss it as too risky because of the odd high profile incident that gets too much media coverage due to the spectacular nature of the activity.
Do your research, make sure you choose experience over convenience/ cost, and you won’t have anything to regret apart from not doing it sooner!