Recommendation A08-01

Reassessment of the response from Transport Canada to Aviation Safety Recommendation A08-01

Regulation of passenger-carrying balloons

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Background

On 11 August 2007 at about 0908 central daylight time, a FireFly 12B hot air balloon, C-FNVM, attempted a landing in a field adjacent to Birds Hill Provincial Park near the northern outskirts of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The balloon was operated by Sundance Balloons International under a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) issued by Transport Canada (TC). 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.

The flight had been extended beyond Winnipeg as the pilot searched for a suitable landing area. The winds in the landing area were much stronger than anticipated, and the balloon touched down and skipped several times. 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. The pilot and two passengers suffered serious injuries. Four other passengers suffered minor injuries, some with burns. Two of the propane tanks and a fire extinguisher canister exploded, and the balloon basket was destroyed.

A balloon is an aircraft as defined in the Aeronautics Act and may be used by a commercial air carrier as defined in the Act. However, although the FireFly 12B and other large balloons can carry up to 12 fare paying passengers, they are not regulated at a level comparable to other commercial aircraft. The carriage of fare-paying passengers in balloons is authorized by TC by way of SFOCs. To obtain an SFOC, the applicant needs to provide only basic information. In the SFOC, TC states that the operator is able to conduct a safe balloon operation carrying fare-paying passengers. In this occurrence, there was no initial inspection of the company by TC to support this statement. The SFOC has no expiry date and there are no audits of the balloon operators as conducted on other air carriers.

On 27 March 2008, the Board released interim safety recommendations as part of its investigation (A07C0151) into this occurrence.

Board Recommendation A08-01 (27 March 2008)

While some commercial balloon operators in Canada have fare-paying passenger loads equal to those of commuter and air taxi operators, their passengers are not assured of the same level of safety and oversight by regulations and standards. The Board is concerned that, without adequate standards and regulations for balloon operators, balloon passenger safety will be compromised. Therefore, the Board recommended that:

The Department of Transport ensure that passenger-carrying commercial balloon operations provide a level of safety equivalent to that established for other aircraft of equal passenger-carrying capacity.
TSB Recommendation A08-01

Transport Canada's response to A08-01 (18 June 2008)

To address the subject of the level of equivalent safety of passenger-carrying commercial balloon operations, TC is conducting a risk assessment of commercial passenger-carrying balloon operations. This study will address the SFOC process and commercial passenger-carrying balloon operation oversight. Once the review is complete, should regulatory changes be required, Notice of Proposed Amendments will be developed and submitted to the Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council for consultation.

Board assessment of the response to A08-01 (16 July 2008)

TC's written response to the recommendation indicates that it intends to conduct a risk assessment and determine an appropriate means of addressing the issue of commercial passenger-carrying balloon operations. This study will address both the SFOC process and commercial passenger-carrying balloon operation oversight. Once the review is complete, regulatory changes will be proposed should they be considered necessary. However, the Board believes that, TC's proposed review and regulatory amendment process will not yield any specific course of action that, in the short term, would reduce or eliminate the deficiency identified in Board Recommendation A08-01.

The response is assessed as Satisfactory Intent.

Next TSB action

The Board will continue to monitor the safety of passenger-carrying balloon operations, and will follow up TC's response in conducting its risk assessment process.

Transport Canada response to A08-01 (21 January 2011)

Issue paper on "Regulation of Balloons with Fare Paying Passengers" was presented at the Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council (CARAC) Technical Committee meeting November 2-6 2009. Valuable information was heard from Stakeholders to determine the way forward. Results are being analysed.

At its June 2010 Civil Aviation Regulatory Committee (CARC) meeting, the CARC approved the formation of a CARAC Working Group on the subject of commercial passenger-carrying balloon operations. The Terms of Reference for the Working Group and its membership were presented and accepted at the November 2010 CARAC meeting. The Working Group activities were forecast to commence in January 2011.

Board reassessment of the response to A08-01 (09 March 2011)

TC's response indicates that it continues to progress safety action that, if fully implemented, will address the deficiencies underlying Recommendation A08-01.

The assessment remains as Satisfactory Intent.

Next TSB action

TSB staff will continue to monitor the safety of passenger-carrying balloon operations, and follow up with TC with respect to the progress of this issue through the CARAC process.

Transport Canada response to A08-01 (06 February 2012)

In an email dated 06 February 2012, TC stated the following:

"The CARAC Working Group for Balloons with Fare-Paying Passengers will be submitting a final report containing the WG's recommendations at the fall 2012 CARAC Technical Committee meeting."

On 28 March 2012, TC submitted an update stating the following:

A Working Group meeting will be held in April/May 2012. The final report containing the Working Group recommendations are expected to be presented at the 2012 fall CARAC Technical Committee meeting.

Board reassessment of the response to A08-01 (31 March 2012)

TC indicated that it is progressing with its work and that the CARAC working group for balloons with fare-paying passengers will be submitting a final report containing its recommendations at the fall 2012 CARAC Technical Committee meeting. However, the Board is still concerned that TC's proposed review and regulatory amendment process may not yield any specific course of action that, in the short term, would reduce or eliminate the deficiency identified in Board Recommendation A08-01.

The assessment remains as Satisfactory Intent.

Next TSB action

The TSB will continue to monitor the safety of passenger-carrying balloon operations, and follow up with TC with respect to the progress of this issue through the CARAC process.

The deficiency file is assigned an Active status.

Transport Canada’s response to A08-01 (04 December 2012)

TC will review the recommendations associated with balloon operations in early 2013 along with our past responses to determine what other steps can be taken.

Board assessment of the response to A08-01 (06 March 2013)

TC did not provide details regarding the progress of the CARAC Working Group for Balloons with Fare-Paying Passengers and its recommendations expected to be presented at the fall 2012 CARAC Technical Committee meeting; nor has TC provided any indication of what recommendations it states it is continuing to consider. The Board is very concerned about the lack of concrete plans to address the underlying safety deficiency which supports this recommendation.

The response is considered as Unable to Assess.

Next TSB action

The TSB will continue to monitor the safety of passenger-carrying balloon operations, and follow up with TC with respect to the progress of this issue through the CARAC process.

The deficiency file is assigned an Active status.

Transport Canada's response to A08-01 (26 November 2013)

Balloon accident statistics have been reviewed and analyzed. The findings of the analysis and the overall favourable safety record of balloon operators indicate that the need for regulatory intervention to achieve higher levels of safety is not apparent. Transport Canada analysis shows that fare-paying passengers on commercial balloons currently enjoy an equivalent level of safety without additional regulations being put in place. No additional regulatory or advisory material is planned at this time and no further updates will be provided.

Board assessment of the response to A08-01 (02 April 2014)

Balloons currently in service in Canada may carry as many as 12 fare-paying passengers. Balloon operators are not subjected to regulations equivalent to other commercial aircraft.

The carriage of fare-paying passengers in balloons is authorized by TC by way of special flight operations certificates (SFOCs). To obtain an SFOC, the applicant needs to provide only basic information. In the SFOC, TC states that the operator is able to conduct a safe balloon operation carrying fare-paying passengers. The SFOC has no expiry date, and there are no inspections or audits of the balloon operators as conducted on other air carriers.

Operations manuals and maintenance manuals, and a requirement to adhere to flight manuals, are recognized means of controlling risks inherent in aviation operations regulated under Part VII (Commercial Air Services) of the Canadian Aviation Regulations. Balloon operators do not have to maintain operations manuals or maintenance control manuals. Because balloons are not regulated under Part VII, they are not included in TC's National Cabin Safety Inspection Program. This means that no balloon carrying fare-paying passengers would be inspected under this program. Because balloons are “general aviation” and not in CARs Part VII, no cabin safety standards have been developed for balloons to ensure standardization during certification of new types, and no standards have been designed for operators engaged in the transportation of passengers.

The Board continues to believe that the safety deficiency identified in this investigation persists. However, no additional regulatory or advisory material is planned at this time, and no further updates will be provided.

Therefore, TC's response is considered as Unsatisfactory.

Next TSB action

The Board will continue to monitor the safety of passenger-carrying balloon operations.

The deficiency file is assigned a Dormant status.