How Safe Are Hot Air Balloons?
Hot air balloons in themselves are beautiful and fascinating aircraft, and the view once you’re high up in the sky on them is breathtaking. But are you willing to risk it just for the experience? Is it really worth it?
Are hot air balloons safe? Let’s find out!
First thing's first: we’re pleased to inform you that hot air balloons are extremely safe.
As per the US National Transportation and Safety Board, only 0.07% of hot air balloon accidents result in fatalities. There has also been an average of only one death per year in hot air balloon-related incidents since the year 2000 in the U.S.
While that’s a reassuringly low number, there’s still that tiny bit of chance that an accident might happen on your hot air balloon ride. After all, what makes us so sure that a large basket hung onto a giant inflated nylon bag is so safe?
Let's check out some of the factors that impact hot air balloon safety.
Let's give you a breakdown of why a hot air balloon is actually one of the safest aircraft to ride in the world.
Technology Has Improved (And So Have Hot Air Balloons)
Hot air balloons have gone a long way in terms of material and technology. It’s not rocket science, but the build of hot air balloons nowadays is way better, more robust, and more reliable compared to before.
Propane burners or propane tanks now power a hot air balloon, using liquid propane to safely provide the warm air needed to keep your balloon afloat. This system also makes it easier to bring fuel with you onboard needed for the flight. I
Even the nylon used to make the balloon is one of the most reliable and durable fabrics available. Modern hot air balloons use ripstop nylon that is not only ultra-durable with a very high tear strength but relatively lightweight, giving designers endless possibilities on the balloon’s aesthetic.
Safer Laws and Safer Measures
Rest assured that there are plenty of rules, regulations, and laws governing hot air balloons for the safety of everyone who comes on board.
There will be a certified and trained hot air balloon pilot onboard with you and your group. They need to pass safety protocols and have a flying license even before they can fly a hot air balloon.
Some laws impose safety checks on hot air balloons regularly to ensure that they are always in tip-top shape every time they are flown. This also applies to the equipment used by the aircraft.
Most importantly, pilots and hot air balloon ride organizers make sure that the weather is bright and sunny without any chances of rain or strong wind before the balloon is flown with people.
Modern meteorology can warn pilots beforehand if it’s not safe to fly for the day.
Everyone involved in the hot air balloon community is well-informed of the do’s and don’ts of the activity and the aircraft. Hot air balloon safety policies are always in place and are strictly implemented and followed. This is why there have not been a lot of hot air balloon-related deaths in the past couple of decades.
Do Hot Air Balloons Have Parachutes?
As you’re flying through the sky in a hot air balloon, you’ll want to make sure you remain safe in case things go wrong, so you may wonder if you have parachutes on board.
Today, most hot air balloons do not have parachutes as they are no longer needed.
A qualified hot air balloon pilot will make all necessary inspections, like checking the burner system and fuel level. However, in case of burner issues, the wind inside the hot air balloon can break a fall, acting as a parachute. Thus, you can expect to land safely, although it could be a bit rough compared to a normal landing.
Let’s dig deeper into the numbers and percentages.
What Are the Chances of Dying in a Hot Air Balloon?
The chances of dying in a hot air balloon are 0.07%. From 2000 to 2016 there have only been 16 deaths during hot air balloon rides. Since 1964, there have been 775 deaths due to accidents, as recorded by the NTSB.
Check out our detailed hot air balloon statistics post for more information.
In Australia, hot air balloons have about a 0.3% chance of encountering an accident per 1,000 hours of flight.
In Comparison With Other Aircraft
How does the safety of hot air balloons compare to other aircraft?
Let’s talk about airplane and helicopter rides first.
Airplanes are the safest mode of transportation for long-distance travel. You are actually 19 times safer when flying in an airplane compared to riding a car. The chances of being involved in a fatal plane accident are one in seven million on commercial airplane flights.
To put things into perspective, no matter how safe it is to ride airplanes, it’s still statistically much safer to ride in a hot air balloon. Of course, you would have to factor in the number of hours of hot air balloon flights and the number of people who fly in hot air balloons, too.
Helicopters, on the other hand, are considered more dangerous than both airplanes and hot air balloons. Helicopters are actually 35% more likely to crash than airplanes.
These numbers show how much safer hot air balloons are compared to cars. So, if you’re not afraid of riding a car day in and day out as your primary mode of transportation, there’s really no need to fear riding a hot air balloon probably only once in your life.
In our opinion, the tiny bit of risk involved in riding one is worth taking given the one-of-a-kind experience of riding a hot air balloon.
Though they are safe, there are a few hazards that could make your hot air balloon flight more dangerous.
Bad weather is the most significant weakness for hot air balloons. To keep things safe, no hot air balloons should be allowed to fly when the weather is unpredictable as even slight strong winds can be detrimental for the flight and the people onboard.
Lucky for us, weather can be predicted nowadays to a certain extent and flights can be postponed to another bright and sunny day.
Pointy and Sharp Objects
Ripstop nylon can be extremely durable but it’s still not 100% foolproof against pointy and sharp objects. But how can a sharp object be a threat when you’re up high in the sky?
If you think about it, sharp objects can be anywhere. Mountains, trees, buildings, or even weather vanes could pierce and damage a hot air balloon. Because of this, pilots have to ensure that the hot air balloon is always steered properly. Plan your route beforehand to evade any obstacles that could cause the balloon to tear or get a hole in it.
Check out our post to learn more about what happens if a hot air balloon gets a hole.
Pointy object-caused incidents also have been known to happen in combination with bad weather. As always, prevention is best in these situations.
We also need to point out that there have been a number of hot air balloon accidents that were due to balloons getting entangled with power lines. Sometimes, it’s inevitable to fly in an area where there are power lines present, so it’s best to plan ahead when you do so and have an experienced pilot fly your hot air balloon to maneuver the aircraft masterfully, especially during landing.
It was the French aviation pioneers, the Montgolfier brothers, assisted by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, way back in 1783 that flew the very first hot air balloon. They then called it Aerostat Reveillon. The first hot air balloon passengers were a duck, a rooster, and a sheep. You’d think that these animals were random, but they were not.
Everything was done intentionally. The sheep represented us, humans. If it was safe for the sheep onboard a hot air balloon, then most likely we’d be safe on it too. The duck and the rooster were the control variables. The duck could fully fly while the rooster could only do so to an extent. When this experiment was a success (the balloon flew for about 15 minutes before it crashed), the group was confident to move forward with human passengers.
Only two months later the first-ever hot air balloon with people onboard flew. It was up in the sky for over 20 minutes and flew in the skies of Paris.
Eight years later George Washington himself saw the launch of the first hot air balloon in North America.
Ultimately, the 1950s served as the revival of the aircraft that has gained the favor of many as a recreational and even a sporting activity.
Tragic Deaths and Incidents
Unfortunately, it was also Pilatre de Rozier, together with Pierre Romain, who first succumbed to a hot air balloon accident. This was most likely the reason why the hot air balloon was not very popular with the public for the next 150 years. Part of the problem was the combination of fire and flammable gas onboard.
Luckily, all of these issues were remedied almost a century and a half later.
The tragedy in Texas back in 2016 was perhaps the biggest hot air balloon incident in the country. All 16 people on board died, and reports say that it was because the aircraft flew right into power lines due to zero visibility and bad weather.
There were also reports suggesting that the pilot of the hot air balloon disregarded many of the rules, laws, and safety protocols leading to the fatal incident.
If the incident from Texas is considered the deadliest in the US, the hot air balloon accident in Egypt which resulted in 19 of the 21 passengers dead is the deadliest to have ever been recorded.
Hot air balloon rides are very common in Luxor, Egypt, as they allow for a great view of the scenery and especially the Nile river. Unfortunately, at only 10 feet in the air, the balloon’s faulty gas system vaulted the aircraft into the sky and caused it to explode.
The pilot and one passenger survived because they jumped quickly. All the other 19 that were left on board, unfortunately, perished. The pilot and the engineer were arrested immediately after the incident.
Has Anyone Fallen From a Hot Air Balloon?
Unfortunately, yes, people have fallen out of hot air balloons before. However, this is usually because there weren’t proper safety precautions taken. One news story involved a man falling out of a hot air balloon after he clung to the side of the basket, which goes against hot air balloon safety regulations.
Other accounts of this are rare, though. So long as you fly with a trained pilot and remain in the basket, you are very unlikely to fall. Even if you're near the edge of the basket, the enclosure is high enough to keep you from falling out.
As tragic as these events can be, the modern hot air balloon industry has learned a lot from them and developed stricter rules, protocols, and policies so we can continue to enjoy this aircraft for years to come.
Hot air balloons are safe and you should not be afraid of hopping aboard one. This is because they are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, they are flown by fully-trained pilots, flights are canceled even in slightly bad weather, people who fear heights don’t necessarily fear flying on them, and the experience will be unlike any other.