The allure of a hot air balloon is unmistakable. Floating above the world and looking at its beautiful scenery… that’s living. But are hot air balloons safe?
You might be surprised to learn how safe you are up there. 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 riding in a hot air balloon.
How Safe Are Air Balloons?
The FAA’s Aviation Accident Database considers hot air balloons the safest air-based travel. Hot air balloons are much safer than planes or skydiving as they rarely get into accidents.
Hot air balloons rely on various air streams to steer and navigate. That heavy reliance on consistent wind patterns means hot air balloons will not fly in adverse weather conditions, like:
- Strong winds
Most commercial ballooning companies prioritize flying within the first 2 hours of sunrise and sunset when the winds are the calmest and most consistent. Napa Valley’s seasonal weather can impact bookings and flight times; we recommend reaching out if you have any questions.
We even have you covered on those foggy Napa Valley mornings. We here at Napa Valley Aloft have exclusive rights to fly out of pope valley, allowing us to serve our customers even on foggy days.
Hot air balloons have strict regulations and guidelines that must be followed to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew members. This includes finding dedicated spaces that don’t have powerlines, trees, or buildings for them to take off and land safely.
The multitude of technological advancements over the last century have made ballooning safer. Everything from portable propane tanks to reinforced wicker baskets and rip-stopping nylon makes hot air balloons the safest form of air-based transportation.
How Common Are Hot Air Balloon Accidents?
In the past 16 years, six commercial hot air balloon accidents have resulted in fatalities. These accidents resulted in 62 deaths in the 6-year timespan, including the Lockhart Texas hor air balloon crash of 2016.
Hot Air Balloons Are Safer Than Planes
Hot air balloons are generally considered safe, with decades of data showing that they are one of the safest forms of air travel. According to the FAA’s Aviation Accident Database, hot air ballooning is the safest form of all air travel and is rarely involved in aviation crashes.
Hot Air Balloons Are Safer Than Skydiving
Hot air balloons are significantly safer than skydiving, thanks to their strict safety regulations. While skydiving has its series of mandatory rules, it’s not considered an aircraft, resulting in less strict guidelines overall.
Common Questions Around Hot Air Balloon Safety
Do Hot Air Balloons Have Parachutes?
Most modern hot air balloons don’t carry parachutes due to their high safety standards. Qualified pilots must run a series of safety checks before every flight.
Part of those checks is inspecting the condition of the balloon, burners, and basket. If something goes wrong, the balloons remaining volume will gradually begin to cool, acting like a built-in parachute.
How Does That Thing Stay Suspended?
Hot air balloons may defy nature’s laws but operate off simple principles. By heating the air inside the balloon (with a burner), the trapped air becomes lighter than the cooler air outside.
Although this is a natural process, pilots do have a great deal of control. They can monitor the altitude with various instruments, and a skilled pilot can usually control the balloon’s descent within centimeters.
What About Steering?
Hot air balloons aren’t steered in the traditional sense like other vehicles. Balloons don’t have a wheel to navigate; they instead rely on increasing or decreasing altitude to surf the array of different air currents found 1,000 to 3,000 feet above the surface.
Can the Pilot Control How and When We Land?
Hot air balloon pilots use the parachute valve to release hot air. Allowing the pilot to pick and choose when the balloon will land. Most landings are reasonably smooth, but others can be rough. We recommend following any rules, guidelines, or instructions.
What Happens If…?
Are you the kind of person who goes to the worst-case scenario first? Sometimes the worst happens, so it’s okay to be prepared. Here are a few scenarios to consider:
- What if a bird flies into the balloon? It will bounce off the tough fabric. Hot air balloon manufacturers test the balloons to ensure 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 trust that they will put safety first. If the weather could make a flight unsafe, it will be postponed or canceled.
- What if the burner goes out? Each hot air balloon company may have its own safety precautions in place. Still, any typical flight will have two independent burners and independent fuel systems as a backup for added safety.
Hot Air Balloon Safety Regulations
Hot air balloons and pilots have to meet a series of strict safety regulations before they’re able to operate. Some of the most common safety guidelines include:
- Pilots of hot air balloons carrying paying passengers must hold a medical certificate and pass a medical exam, similar to commercial airplane and helicopter pilots.
- Commercial hot-air balloon pilots must have valid aircraft and commercial vehicle insurance and not exceed a minimum specified number of accidents.
- A minimum open area of 200 feet by 200 feet clear of all obstructions and overhead power lines, light poles, and fences is necessary for the safe inflation of most hot-air balloons.
- Hot air balloon equipment should be carefully maintained per Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
- Pilots and crews should follow safety guidelines and regulations when making decisions during hot air balloon events.
- Commercial hot-air balloon pilots must meet pilot requirements, hold valid aircraft and commercial vehicle insurance, and not exceed a minimum specified number of accidents.
Follow Your Pilot’s Instructions
Your pilot is fully responsible for ensuring your safety during the flight. This includes performing routine safety inspections, laying out ground rules, reviewing essential safety guidelines, and providing the guidance you need to safely enjoin your flight.
Sometimes your pilot has to speak up to inform the group about something, like preparing for landing, and you must follow their instructions.
How to Choose the Right Hot Air Balloon Company?
Choosing a reputable company for your hot air balloon ride is one of the best things you can do to ensure safety. Choose a company with 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 to get comfortable with the company and pilot you choose. Happy trails!
Conclusion: Just How Safe Are Hot Air Balloons?
Hot air balloons are generally considered safe when experienced and licensed pilots operate. However, like any mode of transportation, risks are involved, such as bad weather conditions and mechanical issues.
To minimize those risks, operators need to follow safety regulations and request passengers listen to any provided instructions. Safety is such an essential focus for ballooning that they prioritize flying in the first two hours after sunrise and before sunset. This allows them to avoid strong or inconsistent winds and helps ensure a safe yet enjoyable ride.
Hot air ballooning can be a thrilling and enjoyable experience when done responsibly. If you’d like to learn more or even book your next flight, don’t hesitate to call us today!