How Safe Are Hot Air Balloons Compared To Airplanes?
Hot air ballooning can be a nerve-wracking experience for first-timers, with lots of myths and rumours about these balloons and their safety, since their essentially a parachute and basket in the sky.
Hot air balloons are regarded to be a very safe form of air travel, few incidents and deaths result from hot air balloons than planes each year, with only 21 incidents between the years 2002 and 2016.
In our guide below, we will cover what makes a hot air balloon safe, how they compare to other air travel and what increases the likelihood of a hot air balloon accident when flying.
What Makes A Hot Air Balloon So Safe?
Hot air balloon rides as we mentioned are safer than planes and cars, with few hot air balloon crashes occurring yearly, most being due to incidents happening outside of the hot air balloon basket, not inside.
With just a wicker basket hanging from the balloon envelope, you might be wondering, what makes this balloon safe?
- Laws & regulations – Nowadays, the laws surrounding hot air ballooning are strict, for example, the FAA inspects hot air balloons for a safe flight the same way they do for other aircraft, this inspection happens after every 100 flight hours and the hot air balloon pilot also has to be licensed and retake a flight test every two years.
- Modern technology – Hot air balloon travel has come a long way since the 1700’s when the first balloon took off, modern balloons now run with tech to monitor hazards such as weather, the temperature of the balloon and altitude as well as using propane tanks and ripstop nylon for better durability of the balloon.
- Simplicity – One of the reasons that hot air ballooning accidents are rare is because there is very little to go wrong, hot air balloons operate very simply with their burner, basket and balloon envelope, this is different to planes for example where a multitude of issues can happen on the board and with the plane.
- Weather – Balloons are only allowed to operate in clear weather conditions with calm winds, this is why when risky weather conditions are forecast flights are often delayed, guaranteeing hot air balloon safety.
How Do Hot Air Balloons Compare To Other Forms Of Air Travel?
To see just how safe a hot air balloon flight is, we’ve compared these balloons to other popular forms of air travel down below.
Helicopters are a lot more dangerous than both a hot air balloon flight and airplane, they are 35% more likely to crash than an airplane.
Most of the time incidents with helicopters come from dangerous manoeuvres.
As we’ve mentioned earlier on, a hot air balloon flight is regarded to be safer than an airplane since fewer incidents occur per year in comparison.
However, this statistic should not be taken at face value, for example, the death rate for incidents involving airplanes over hot air balloons is higher typically because there are more plane flights than hot air balloons carrying many more people.
Airplane flights are also thought to be much safer than a hot air balloon for long-distance travel, so both air modes of transport are regarded as safe for their individual uses, it’s difficult to draw a comparison when they are used for different flying.
Parachuting is regarded to be safer than a helicopter and works similarly to being a hot air balloon, out of 1000 jumps there is a 0.006 chance of a fatality. This works out to be a lesser chance of dying from parachuting than just doing your day to day life business on the ground!
In comparison to hot air ballooning, sky diving has been proven to be more fatal, but both are considered very safe, with the chance of an incident occurring to be very small.
What Makes A Hot Air Balloon Unsafe?
If hot air balloon rides are so safe, you might be wondering why some crashes occur, and what could make them potentially unsafe?
We’ve listed some factors which impact ballooning safety below.
A lot of balloon crash victims have been killed due to objects and obstacles when flying, for example, this could be trees or buildings, not because they could pierce the balloon but because the hot air balloon basket could get stuck on the obstacles.
This is why it’s important for hot air balloon operators to predict wind direction and speed and to plan their route as well as they can out of urbanization.
Compared to any other danger, power lines cause the most often deadly balloon crashes, this is because they are high and unexpected and you can’t steer the balloon away if you heading for one, most hot air ballooning take-offs and hot air balloon landings will be as distanced as they can from these lines.
Another huge hazard to hot air balloons is weather patterns; rain, strong winds and lightning can all cause severe damage to a hot air balloon which is why a hot air balloon company will often change your scheduled flight in case of bad weather.
Weather can change the course of your hot air balloon and reduce visibility when flying making it dangerous for the hot air balloon pilot.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hot Air Balloons & Airplane Safety
Is the liquid propane gas on a hot air balloon safe?
Yes, LPG is what makes hot air balloons to this date very safe, it’s lightweight and easy to handle too, allowing the pilot to carry a backup tank on board.
What’s the deadliest hot air balloon crash?
The deadliest hot air balloon crash reported was in 2016 and happened in the US, Texas, the crash killed 16 people and was thought to of happened due to it catching fire, numerous other incidents have happened due to crashes with power lines.
Can a plane and a hot air balloon crash?
There have been no reported collisions of hot air balloons and planes since the majority of balloon pilots are not allowed to fly balloons near flight zones plus they are not at a high enough altitude to meet planes.
What often causes a hot air balloon to crash?
Most incidents with hot air balloons come from bad weather conditions, the second cause is high voltage power lines and obstructions, the last reason is a pilot error but this is very rare.
Which certification should a hot air balloon company have?
A hot air balloon should have its 100 hour FAA checks documented plus each pilot should be certified and have over 18 months of certification before flying a balloon commercially with over 4 people inside.
Overall, hot air balloons do have statistically fewer incidents and deaths per year than airplanes, however, it should be noted that it’s hard to draw a comparison since planes fly with more people, more often and are suitable for long-distance travel, unlike hot air balloons.
Hot air ballooning is regarded as very safe, however, being much safer than helicopters, this is because they must meet certification to be able to fly and due to modernised technology which allows the pilot to control and monitor the balloon better.
I’m Annie, a twenty-something year old girl who loves hot air balloons. So much so, that I have a full time job as a Flight Instructor and it is all I love talking about. Something about being up there in the elevated altitudes helps all my stresses float away!