Are Hot Air Balloons Safe?

Are Hot Air Balloons Safe?

Do you feel anxious while trying new things, or is an adventure your second name? Enthusiast or not, flying can be intimidating for every individual. More so, when you are high above the land with winds gushing in from every direction. So, are hot air balloons safe, or you need to drop the plan?

The phobia of heights or flying is common, irrespective of the city or country you belong to. While you may have friends who spend half their lives in the air, you may not be one of them. Perhaps you have your doubts about the safety of hot air balloons. Not anymore!

Here is the not-so-obvious truth—riding on a Hot Air Balloon is SAFE, sometimes more than other forms of flight. With the increasing safety measures over the years, the fatality rate in these rides has minimized to 2-3 per year. Yes, that is rarer than airplane accidents!

Are you curious about why you must not be frightened while dangling almost 20,000 meters above sea level? You will find all your answers about the safety of hot air balloons in this article.

Get on board!

What Makes Hot Air Balloons Safe?

You may be wondering how flying in a basket that is suspended by a large-size balloon safe. More so, as it involves a gas burner inflating the balloon. That is not all. You will not see any steering in such a balloon (gasps).

Do not worry! Hot air balloons are actually relatively safe, provided you do not run into power lines, pointed objects, or a storm. Still, if you get to thinking, these balloons are actually among the simplest forms of flight.

It so because they do not include engines or large, complicated bodies. The simpler, the safer! Here are a few straightforward answers to what makes hot air balloons safe.

Advanced Technology

From the time hot air ballooning was invented, the ride has seen a plethora of essential advancements. For example, the conversion of the balloon cloth from sack to durable nylon, the up-gradation of the fire tank, etc. Every change has resulted in a better and much safer ride.

In the initial stages, scientists resorted to several options, such as hydrogen gas to pump the balloon. However, all of them were not successful, and some proved to be better than others. With experience comes knowledge, and that is why propane tanks are currently the best options.

That is not all. Propane is a relatively easy-to-handle fuel and is an excellent way to warm the balloon air. Also, ripstop nylon makes a solid piece of cloth that remains sturdy even under high air pressure. Furthermore, the hot air balloon basket uses durable materials to withstand a high amount of weight even at a height.

Apart from the construction style and quality, other valuable technological resources include weather forecast.  Your pilot will do all the weather checks well before taking off. So, thank the technological inventions and get on the ride with 100% confidence!

Enhanced Safety Regulations

You must know that where activities like hot air ballooning are concerned, the government steps in to ensure your safety. The Maximum number of countries, if not all, have special laws in regard to this thrilling activity. Resultantly, you get an added layer of safety measures!

The foremost example is that of hot air balloon pilots. Most places, including the United States, require pilots to clear specific tests to deem eligible for the job. These pilots are well-trained to check the equipment before boarding, handling emergencies, and more.

Once their training completes, these individuals will obtain a license specific to hot air ballooning. Needless to say, having licensed pilots on board will automatically minimize the occurrence of any accidents.

What’s more? Other hot air ballooning laws require personals to inspect the equipment as regularly as every 100 hours. It further reduces any chances of working flaws in hot air balloons.

The United States and several other nations provide informative manuals regarding the hot air balloon laws. It helps the companies in charge to make sure these are followed. Thus, your safety and protection become a priority of the officials.

Knowledge and Experience

Experiences tend to be the best teachers, and hot air ballooning has been in existence for over two centuries. That makes for a lot of time to learn, doesn’t it? Over the years, a multitude of ways have been tried and tested, only to get the best, impeccable methods.

From manufacturers to handlers and ballooning companies, every sector has had a tremendous number of experiences. Therefore, they have a whole lot of information about conducting the activities accurately as well as consequences.

As a result, the current day hot air ballooning has better equipment, well-informed companies, and well-trained pilots. The theoretical knowledge and practical experiences stack up together to make hot air ballooning safe from every angle.

You can relax and hop on the balloon, with the assurance that you will have a completely safe ride!

Hot Air Balloons vs. Aircraft – A Safety Comparison

Hot air balloons are among the safest modes of flying, but how safe, really? They do not require the coordination of several high-end machines. Yet, they are open from every direction and carry high risk. So, which type of aircraft is the safest?

Here is a comparison of a hot air balloon with a few of the other famous air vessels.

Are Hot Air Balloons Safer Than Airplanes?

The answer is both yes and no. An airplane is the safest mode of flying and has the least fatality rates for long distances. Still, the total average gets dramatically high and undoubtedly more significant than a hot air balloon. Is it confusing? Well, here’s the deal.

If you compare airplanes with other aircraft or ground transport, they are the safest. Statistics show less than one fatality in an airplane for every one billion miles. That makes for very few chances of deaths, right?

That is not really true. If you see annually, the fatality rate of airplanes is way more than that of hot air balloons. How is that possible? It is simple. The number of people traveling in planes exceeds that of the hot air balloons. Plus, the difference in the number of travelers is too large.

According to the research conducted in 2018, a total of 1,040 deaths were recorded from airplane crashes. In comparison, the fatality count in hot air balloons was only 1 for the same year. That indeed cannot be compared, and clearly, hot air balloons seem to be safer.

That said, you must not forget that airplanes cover hundreds and thousands of miles per day. On the other hand, hot air balloons travel a relatively short distance every day.

On the whole, both hot air balloons and airplanes are quite safe to travel. You must not forget that the time you spend in a balloon is relatively short, making it even safer.

Is Helicopter Safety Better Than That of Hot Air Balloons?

You may be thinking that helicopters are pretty safe as they are usually smaller and easier to handle than planes. Perhaps, safer than hot air balloons too. You may be wrong here. Helicopters are actually one of the most dangerous aircraft, especially when compared to the other two options.

Helicopters are known to crash 35% more than airplanes. Isn’t that too high? Though some of these crashes include accidents that occur during military tests, these vessels are still quite dangerous.

If you were to compare them with land transport, helicopters are mostly like motorcycles. The only difference is that they are in the sky. However, the good news is that the fatality rate in helicopters is on a constant decrease.

That said, you must know that they are still one of the riskiest flying options. Even if you are sitting with a well-experienced, professional pilot, the chances of engine faults or vehicle imbalance are high.

All in all, choosing a hot air balloon ride over a helicopter is a wiser option. More so, if you have aviophobia—the fear of flying!

Parachuting or Hot Air Ballooning – What is Safer?

Individuals who do not have much knowledge in this area may often get confused between a parachute and a hot air balloon. More so, due to the similarity in looks and physics laws applied in both these activities.

That said, parachutes may not be termed as a flying craft. It is actually used for falling only. Still, much to your surprise, it is on the safer side than a helicopter. Yes, if you jump from a plane with a parachute, you have more chances of landing successfully than in a copter.

Apart from that, the statistics of fatalities caused during parachuting is significantly low. For every 1000 jumps, only about 0.006 deaths have been recorded. However, it does not mean that this is the safest form of flying.

As a matter of fact, parachuting does cause a notably-high rate of severe injuries, if not deaths.  So, riding on parachutes can be considered safe, but not completely. When compared to hot air balloons, parachuting is riskier.

What Are the Causes of Hot Air Balloon Accidents?

After comparing hot air ballooning with different flying ways, you can say that it is relatively safe. Though less, there are still chances of accidents and fatalities in hot air balloons as well. So, what are the causes of hot air balloon accidents?

Unlike other aircraft, most of these are actually external factors instead of discrepancies within the basket or the envelope. That is because the hot air balloon equipment is of basic nature and can be relied upon.

Are you planning to go on an adventurous hot air balloon ride? If yes, you totally need to be well-aware of all the possibilities. Even if you are not yet up for it, extra knowledge never harms, does it?

Here is a list of the various reasons for a discrepancy in the functionality of a hot air balloon. 

Unexpected Weather Conditions

One of the typical reasons for a hot air balloon accident is due to unexpected weather. Though pilots and balloons keep a regular check on the forecast, nature can be unpredictable sometimes!

If you know how hot air balloons really work, you would understand why weather plays a significant role here. These balloons actually just float around with the wind directing them from one place to the other.

You may have seen that the movement of hot air balloons is dramatically slow. Well, it is because pilots usually tend to take-off these air vessels only during slow winds. If you are looking to have the adventure of your life on a windy day, drop your plan now.

None of the licensed pilots or responsible companies will take you up in the air in unfavorable weather. That also applies to days that have a forecast of the weather taking a turn. Additionally, it does not only apply to winds. The same also goes for a storm, thunder, lightning, rain, etc.

Apart from that, if it is foggy or smoggy, you will not get a chance to ride a hot air balloon. That is because flying with zero visibility is like walking yourself into danger. So, if you have planned hot air ballooning on a particular day, pray that the odds are in your favor!

That said, the good news is that you can ride a hot air balloon around the year! Yes, if the winds are at bay, you can go 20,000 meters (or more) above the ground, irrespective of the temperature. However, do not forget to carry a coat to keep yourself warm and make the most of your ride!

Sharp Objects

You may be wondering as to what sharp objects will you find in the middle of nowhere. Well, when you get to it, there are quite many. They can range from weather vanes to tall buildings and trees to cliffs. Believe it or not, all of these have been the cause of major hot air balloon accidents.

The probability of these hazards occurring is still considerably low. You must know that the balloon is of firm material and does not usually get torn due to clashes. However, while landing, the basket may get stuck in tree branches or sharp cliffs. Consequently, it may lead to a mishap.

That said, the chances of a sharp-edged object banging into the balloon are still quite negligible. However, if the weather is bad, the possibility of such an accident automatically increases. Thus, you can say that the main culprit is the unfavorable weather condition, again.

Sharp and pointed objects can be avoided by keeping multiple factors into consideration before flying. Continue reading to learn more about what measures you can take to prevent hot air balloon accidents.

Power Lines

One of the most hazardous causes of hot air balloon accidents is power lines. It is undeniably one of the primary reasons for a death occurrence during hot air ballooning. Though it is a relatively new concern, power line accidents are increasing by the day.

That is because, with a rise in urbanization, more and more areas are getting unfit for ballooning. If a power line comes out of nowhere, it is almost impossible to get rid of it. Again, this incident mostly occurs while landing.

To avoid clashes of any sort, pilots need to be extra-cautious while landing. Additionally, opting to fly in a secluded area with minimal signs of civilization is the wisest option. That especially applies to take-offs and landings.

All in all, being precautious is the only way of preventing a hot air balloon from banging into power lines.

What Experiments Did Hot Air Balloons Go Through?

So far, you know that hot air balloons are actually pretty safe for riding. However, this has not been the scenario since the invention of this fantastic air vessel. In fact, hot air balloons were not at all safe for an extended period.

Developers took significantly longer to test and confirm the various techniques that are available today. Consequently, it led to a significant number of tragedies. However, what’s interesting is that hot air balloons were banned for over a century due to their hazardous nature.

So, the hot air balloon that you know today is a byproduct of a plethora of experiences and lessons learned. Curious about how the modern-day hot air balloon came into existence? Here is a list of the notable incidents related to the invention and development of hot air balloons.

Animal Ride in the First Hot Air Balloon

You will be amused to know that the very first riders of a hot air balloon included animals. A duck, a rooster, and a sheep were sent on the balloon to test the success. You may be wondering as to why they would choose such a weird combination. It has a strong reason behind it.

The sheep was sent as it was thought to have similar anatomy and response to stimuli as humans. At the same time, a rooster and a duck were sent due to their mediocre and extra-high flying capabilities, respectively. It was an intentional pair-up to test the survival rate on a hair balloon.

So, did the flock of animals make it to the top? You would be happy to hear that not only did they fly safely but also landed successfully. Resultantly, none of the animals were hurt during the test.

First Fatality

Do you think a hot air balloon was a success since day one? Not really. Though the first ride was a huge bang-on, the celebrations did pause shortly after. The very first fatality in a hot air balloon occurred in the year 1785.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, along with Pierre Romain, created a balloon using hydrogen gas and hot air. The pair was trying to cross the English Channel in this hot air balloon. They were not able to complete their quest and died in the middle of their journey.

So, what actually happened to the balloon? The fact is not known to many. Still, according to reports, it burst into flames, causing both the passengers to die on the spot. It was a serious incident that was also recorded as the very first death in the aviation industry.

Despite the failed attempt, developers continued experimenting and learning from previous mistakes.

Development of the Rozière Balloon

The death of the duo was recorded in history for their invention as well as bravery. It also led to the hot air balloon model being named after the martyr Pilâtre de Rozier. The Rozier balloon worked on the principles, initially set by Rozier and Romain, along with some tweak-ups.

It included the use of hot air along with gas. However, the dangers of the critical combination of fire and gas were only learned after this fatality. Resultantly, the Rozier balloon is quite advanced now, with flawless functionality.

You can see a multitude of these balloons all around the world, especially in ballooning events. Though its inventors faced multiple failures, they only led to the invention of highly advanced ballooning systems.

The Roziere incident and other such examples are the causes behind the excellent performance of the present-day hot air balloons.

Major Hot Air Balloon Accidents in Recent Times

The functionality of hot air balloons has only improved with time. Yet, some major hot air balloon accidents occurred in recent times. Though most of these incidents have not led to fatalities, unfortunately, some did.

With the increasing technological improvements, the rate of hot air balloon mishap has significantly fallen. Nonetheless, the few accidents that did occur were massive ones. Additionally, they had a drastic impact on the media and, consequently, on the world.

As a result, despite the low rate of such incidents, a large population is terrified of traveling on balloons. Here is a list of a few yet attention-grabbing hot air balloon tragedies.

Alice Springs, Australia

In 1989, two giant hot air balloons banged into each other, resulting in a serious accident. The incident occurred in Northern Australia, where the basket of the balloon above tore the sack of the lower one.

The balloon instantly dived into the ground from a height of almost 2,000 feet. As a result, all thirteen of its passengers died, making it the most destructive event of that time. Consequently, the balloon pilot that survived was sentenced to two years of imprisonment, which was blown away on appeal.

Ljubljana Marshes, Slovenia

A relatively recent incident occurred in 2012 where a balloon lost balance due to adverse weather conditions. Due to an incoming storm, the pilot decided to land in an emergency, which proved to be unsuccessful.

In this hazard, 6 out of 32 people on board died, leading to stricter ballooning regulations in Slovenia.

Carterton, New Zealand

Some accidents do happen due to unprofessional pilots, and the Carterton event is one such example. In 2012, a balloon crashed into power lines, killing all eleven of the passengers, in New Zealand. Here, instead of attempting an emergency landing, the pilot tried to fly above the obstacle.

The pilot’s body was later diagnosed to have significant traces of marijuana. That is not all. Several other issues were found in this investigation, including his expired medical report, outdated equipment, and faulty maintenance reports.

It was a tragic incident but resulted in vital improvements in New Zealand ballooning laws.

The Texas Hot Air Balloon Tragedy

One of the most recent and deadliest hot air balloon accidents of the United States occurred in Maxwell, Texas. In 2016, a balloon crashed into power lines while landing, leading to the death of all 16 members on board.

The culprit behind this story was the balloon pilot—Alfred Skip Nichols. Despite the foggy weather and minimal visibility, he flew with 15 other passengers on board. Moreover, he was a patient with ADHD, depression, and acute pain and was heavily dosed during the flight.

The good part is that the US hot air ballooning laws were significantly tightened after this tragedy. Additionally, no big ballooning accident was ever recorded in the country after this.

Worst Hot Air Balloon Crash

The list of tragic hot air ballooning incidents does not end there. The worst is yet to come. The hot air balloon accident in Luxor, Egypt, is by far the deadliest ballooning crash ever recorded. So, what happened?

As soon as the balloon flew (10 feet above ground level), a gas leakage caused the eruption of fire. Reacting instantly, the pilot and a passenger jumped off to save themselves. However, the malfunction resulted in excessive release of hot air, which led to the balloon sky-rocketing.

Several other passengers tried to jump from 100 feet above the ground but died on the stop. Shortly after, the balloon burst into fire at about one thousand feet above ground level. Consequently, a total of 19 passengers were killed in the event.

The balloon pilot and its engineer were later arrested. It was reported that this incident occurred due to an outdated gas line, untrained pilot, and weak ballooning laws of Egypt.

Hot Air Balloon Safety Measures

In most developed nations, the hot air balloon laws are highly-regulated to ensure the safety of every individual. However, there are a few safety measures that you must look into before getting on a hot air balloon.

Investigate the Company

The foremost step should be conducting a thorough investigation of the ballooning company. As you may have observed in the list of examples, most of the accidents actually occurred due to the pilot. 

You must choose a reputable company that has certified pilots, up-to-date equipment, and regular maintenance. Most of all, the company must adhere to the ballooning laws of that specific area.

A few things that you can do is check company reviews on websites and membership proof of Professional Ride Operators (PRO). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lays out the rules and standards of this organization.

Confirm the Weather

If you choose a good company, it will automatically postpone your booking if the climate is unfavorable. However, you can still confirm the weather on your device. If there are any chances of high winds, storms, or heavy rain, immediately drop the plan.

Recommended Behavior

Though you will be instructed about what you can and cannot do on-board, here is a briefing. While on a hot air balloon, do not:

  • swing your body outside the basket
  • move a lot or jump around
  • lean on the railing

Things Not to Be Scared Of

Once you have checked the necessary steps, you can relax and enjoy your hot air balloon ride. Still, here are a few situations you should not panic about.

Burner Going Off: In case the burner of your balloon goes off, do not worry, as it will light up within seconds. However, if the fuel gets over, the pilot will replace it with a backup. Worst case scenario, if both the burners go off, your balloon will land on the ground at a slow speed.

Birds: You may be thinking, what if birds could cause an accident by bumping into the balloon. Well, you must know that birds are usually scared of the massive balloons and do not fly anywhere near them. Also, the balloon is quite robust, and a bird’s bump will not affect it.

Holes in the Balloon: Even if your balloon gets a tiny or medium-sized hole, it will still fly as well as before.

Wrap Up

Hot air balloons are undeniably among the safest modes of flying, and you already know-how. Moreover, most of the developed countries assure that the ballooning laws are followed well. Though there have been a few accidents, they are still less than that in the other modes of transport—air and land.

Altogether, you need not fear at all while getting on a balloon. You just need to make sure to run a few necessary checks for your satisfaction, and you will be good to go.

So, what’s the hold? Go and take the hot air balloon ride that you have been waiting for!

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