Are Hot Air Balloons Safe?
Are Hot Air Balloons Safe?
Hot air ballooning is one of the world’s most unconventional sporting activities and fantastic recreational experiences for travelers. As excited as you may feel to float higher and higher until you can touch the sky and take in extraordinary views, it’s normal to feel a bit nervous, too. If you’re worried about the dangers of hot air balloon rides, put your mind at ease with a quick tour of the key factors ensuring their safety.
How Safe Are Hot Air Balloons?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, hot air balloons are actually safer than flying in airplanes or driving cars. Because they rely solely on the wind for horizontal movement, they travel extremely slowly at a whopping 5 mph. Compare that to cruising the highway in your car at 70mph or a commercial flight making serious headway at 550 mph.
The statistics show that hot air balloon accidents do happen, but they happen pretty rarely. Each year in the United States, there are approximately 20 hot air balloon accidents, most of which result in injuries rather than fatalities. Between 2000 and 2016, there were only 21 deaths from hot air balloon incidents.
Hot Air Balloon Safety Equipment
Hot air balloons are mechanically much more straightforward than other forms of transportation. However, that does not mean they are sparse in safety equipment. This list of gear is brought on any professional hot air balloon flight as per the industry standard.
Hot air balloons rise in the air thanks to the propane gas burner filling the balloon with heat until it reaches buoyancy. The burner comes with a pilot light that burns nonstop to help with ignition. If the pilot light dies out for some reason, the pilot can use a backup source of ignition, usually a piezo lighter, a flint striker or a welding torch.
Fuel and Burner Backups
If you wanted to free fall from the sky, you would have signed up for skydiving. The balloon will never free fall as long as a working burner and enough fuel keep the hot air coming. For this reason, many hot air balloon rides are equipped with a spare burner system and extra fuel tanks.
A drop line works similarly to an anchor on a boat. The pilot drops this long rope out of the basket, at which point the ground crew grabs hold of it, gently steering the balloon around obstacles.
When playing with fire, always have a fire extinguisher on hand. Hot air balloon fires have been known to happen, especially if they get tangled in low-hanging power lines. A fire extinguisher will be able to douse both propane-fueled and electrical fires.
Flame-resistant gloves are a must for both the pilot and the ground crew. They protect the skin against fire and propane, which can cause freeze burns. For the ground crew, gloves offer protection against rope burn from the friction of handling a gigantic moving balloon.
Everyone involved in the hot air balloon flight — pilot, passengers, and ground crew — must wear clothing made from natural materials like cotton, wool, polyester or silk. Though these fibers are still flammable, they will hopefully only get a little scorched rather than melting to the skin.
Piloting a hot air balloon means accepting responsibility for people’s lives and safety from start to finish. This tremendous duty is not for just anyone and must be earned. To qualify for the FAA commercial balloon piloting license, pilots must accomplish countless hours of intensive training and testing. Even after obtaining the license, pilots will still keep up with their training and undergo intermittent testing. The pilots at Asheville Hot Air Balloons have decades of hot air ballooning experience and are fully licensed for commercial flights.
Aside from physical obstacles, weather conditions are the most common cause of hot air balloon accidents. However, an accident can’t happen if the balloon doesn’t launch in the first place. Adept pilots understand how to carefully observe the skies, using forecasts, previous experience, or their own radar technology. If there are any signs of thunderstorms, high winds or precipitation, the flight will be rescheduled.
Are hot air balloons safe? The answer is a resounding yes! They are perfectly safe when handled by expert pilots who would never take off in rough weather nor leave behind the necessary safety equipment. If you still have reservations, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Asheville Hot Air Balloon team for more information about our safety precautions. The experience of a lifetime awaits just up there in the clouds!