The allure of a hot air balloon is clear. Floating above the world and looking out upon its beautiful scenery… that’s living. But are hot air balloons safe?
With the news of a recent accident, this is a question many people are asking. And it’s a good one.
But you might be surprised to learn how safe you are up there. In fact, hot air balloon rides are safer than walking down the street or riding in a car.
You’re even more likely to lose your life from being struck by a large mammal (think cows and horses) than you are from riding in a hot air balloon.
How often do hot air balloon accidents happen?
In the past 16 years, there have been six commercial hot air balloon accidents that resulted in fatalities. These accidents resulted in a total of 62 deaths in the 6-year timespan, and this includes the recent accident in Texas.
How does that thing stay suspended?
Hot air balloons may seem to defy the laws of nature, but they actually work in a rather simple way.
As you probably already know, hot air rises. So by heating the air inside the balloon (with a burner), the trapped air becomes lighter than the cooler air outside. And the balloon rises.
Although this is a natural process, pilots have a great deal of control. They can monitor the altitude with various instruments, and a skilled pilot can usually control the balloon’s decent within centimeters.
What about steering?
Some people worry about the hot air balloon being thrust about in any direction the wind goes. But this is not a cause for concern.
Any experienced pilot will know how to use the winds to steer the balloon. Wind directions change at varying altitudes, and your pilot will direct the balloon up or down to catch the stream that is going in their desired direction.
Can the pilot control how and when we land?
Since hot air balloons don’t have an engine, they cannot be steered in the same way as an airplane or helicopter. So there won’t be a pre-decided location. Still, the pilot has enough control to be able to bring the balloon down whenever a safe space is in sight.
You may feel a slight bump when the balloon hits the ground. Rest assured that this is safe and normal, and your hot air balloon was designed to withstand the bump.
What happens if…?
Are you the kind of person who goes to the worst case scenario first? Well, sometimes the worst does happen, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be prepared. Here are a few scenarios to consider:
- What if a bird flies into the balloon? Honestly, the massive size of a hot air balloons is terrifying to most birds. In the unlikely event that a bird flew into the balloon, it would probably bounce off of the tough fabric. Hot air balloon manufacturers put the balloons through vigorous testing to ensure that they can withstand anything nature may present.
- What if the weather is bad? Your pilot will monitor the weather before the flight to determine whether it is safe to fly. As long as you choose a reputable hot air balloon company with an experienced pilot, you should be able to trust that he or she will put safety first. If the weather could make a flight unsafe, it will be postponed or cancelled.
- What if the burner goes out? Each hot air balloon company may have its own safety precautions in place, but any typical flight will have two independent burners and independent fuels systems as backup for added safety.
How to choose the right hot air balloon company?
One of the best things you can do to ensure safety is to choose a reputable company for your hot air balloon ride. Choose a company that has a good history and reputation that you can investigate. Read reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints.
A ride in a hot air balloon should be a safe and fun experience for everyone. So ask as many questions as you’d like in order to get comfortable with the company and pilot you choose. Happy trails!