Canadian Underwriter

Transportation Safety Board of Canada pushes for more hot air balloon safety regulations

August 10, 2016   by Canadian Underwriter

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Nine years after a hot air balloon accident near Winnipeg, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada suggested Monday it “continues to be concerned” that operators are not regulated in the same manner as operators of other commercial aircraft.

Hot Air Balloon Red Blue Yellow Lifting Off“Hot air balloons are considered aircraft under the Aeronautics Act,” TSB stated in a release. “However, while balloons can carry up to 12 fare-paying passengers, those operators are not regulated at a level comparable to that of other commercial aircraft operators.”

The release comes nine days after a major accident in the United States. On July 30, 16 people were killed when a hot air balloon crashed, near Lockhart, Texas after hitting power lines, The Associated Press reported at the time. In February 2013, a balloon flying over Luxor, Egypt caught fire and plunged 1,000 feet to the ground, crashing into a field and killing at least 19 foreign tourists, AP reported.

TSB did not refer to either the Texas or Luxor tragedies in its release Monday, but did refer to an incident in Manitoba in 2007. On Aug. 11 of that year, seven people were injured after a FireFly 12B hot air balloon “attempted a landing in a field adjacent to Birds Hill Provincial Park” north of Winnipeg, TSB reported earlier.

The balloon operator had a Special Flight Operations Certificate issued by Transport Canada.

“One pilot and 11 passengers were on board, for a local sightseeing flight of about one hour’s duration, originating in the southeast of Winnipeg and terminating in the northeast of Winnipeg,” TSB said in its investigation report released in 2008.

TSB, a separate organization from Transport Canada, investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation incidents. It does not determine criminal or civil liability.

In the 2007 hot air balloon incident near Winnipeg, “the winds in the landing area were much stronger than anticipated, and the balloon touched down and skipped several times,” TSB said in its investigation report released in 2008. “The basket was dragged on its side for about 700 feet and tipped far enough for the burners to strike the ground. When the balloon stopped, a propane fuel leak occurred and an intense fire ensued before passenger evacuation was completed.”

Three people – the pilot and two passengers – were seriously injured, while four passengers had minor injuries.

As part of its investigation report, TSB recommended that Transport Canada “provide a level of safety equivalent to that established for other aircraft of equal passenger carrying capacity.”

TSB noted that “while balloons can carry up to 12 fare-paying passengers, those operators are not regulated at a level comparable to other commercial aircraft operators.”

Another recommendation was that “balloons carrying fare-paying passengers have an emergency fuel shut-off.”

But as of April, 2014 Transport Canada had “rejected” the recommendation to mandate emergency fuel-shut-offs, “citing certain unspecified practical and technical problems with the implementation of the recommendation,” TSB states on its aviation watch list.

TSB has other recommendations, which have yet to be implemented, on its aviation watch list. Some date back to 2007, when TSB released a report into a 2005 accident at Toronto International Airport involving an Air France airplane that overran the end of the runway after landing and caught fire, seriously injuring 12.

Transport Canada should “mandate training for all pilots involved in Canadian air transport operations to better enable them to make landing decisions in deteriorating weather,” TSB said in 2007.

On Aug. 2, 2005, an Air France Airbus A340 landed in heavy rain about 3,800 feet down a 9,000-foot runway at Toronto/Lester B. Pearson airport. It continued at 80 knots past the west end of the runway, crossing a service road and Convair Drive, finally stopping on the east side of Etobicoke Creek. Its landing gear and two inboard engines left gouges in the pavement of Convair Drive. The plane also knocked down a guard rail and approach light tower. Two crew members and 10 passengers were seriously injured, most from the impact. A total of 33 were taken to hospital by ambulance. Most of the upper portion of the main fuselage was consumed by fire.

About 15 minutes before landing, “some aircraft on the same radio frequency were advising [air traffic control] that they were proceeding to alternate airports,” TSB reported.

“Having made their decision to land, the crew members used all their energy to concentrate on this task and missed cues that should have warranted a review of that decision,” TSB stated in its investigation report. “The cues included the following: the runway looked like a lake; the aircraft deviated above the glide path; the landing was going to be farther down the runway than usual; the wind speed was reportedly increasing and the wind direction was changing; braking action was reported as poor; and the visibility became close to nil near the threshold.”

TSB added it “believes that the ability to capture and interpret cues that are essential in the decision-to-land process is inadequate, especially when the cues are ambiguous or not immediately compelling. Consequently, pilots will continue to land in deteriorating weather once the landing decision has been made, in spite of cues that indicate that a go-around or balked approach should be executed.”

As part of its investigation report, released Dec. 12, 2007, TSB recommended that Transport Canada “and other civil aviation authorities require crews to establish the margin of error between landing distance available and landing distance required before conducting an approach into deteriorating weather.”

As of March, 2016 TSB said the federal government “anticipates” that “proposed regulatory amendments” will be published some time in 2016.

TSB says it “remains concerned that ongoing delays in this essential but lengthy consultation process prevents the implementation of these important regulatory amendments.”

TSB added that “landing accidents and runway overrun occurrences remain on TSB’s Watchlist and continue to expose Canadians to unnecessary risks until [Transport Canada’s] proposed regulatory amendments are implemented.”