Safety must be the first consideration in all situations involving hot-air balloons. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules and regulations are specific regarding the safe performance of any aircraft, and the judgment of a qualified pilot is vital to ensure the safe operation of a hot-air balloon. Tethered balloon events must comply with all FAA regulations and BSA requirements.
The pilot-in-command is directly responsible for the safety of everyone involved, including the crew, passengers, and bystanders. Therefore, the pilot-in-command shall have full decision-making authority regarding any and all activities during a ballooning event. While most pilots are experienced, knowledgeable professionals who understand the promotional value of ballooning, they must not allow the promotional aspect to supersede their obligation to safety.
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. Larger balloons may require a larger open area, determined by the pilot. The open area should be fairly level, grassy, and free of debris and mud. If a vacant lot or dirt area is used, the area must be cleared of any material that could snag or tear the balloon envelope, such as broken glass, nails, and barbed wire. The area must be capable of being driven upon by support vehicles. This amount of area not only allows the envelope to stretch out in any direction when it is being inflated or deflated, but also allows enough room for the tether lines and anchors.
The owner of the property selected as a suitable tether or launch site must grant permission in writing. Permits may be required by local authorities for launching from public property. Plan on 30 days’ notice to secure any required permits.
A tethered balloon event could last about one to two hours—wind and weather permitting. On all tethered events, the balloon is secured to the ground with tether lines from at least three separate locations on the perimeter of the tether site using poles, trees, or vehicles as attachment points. These attachment points must be capable of supporting several thousand pounds of force. If using vehicles as attachment points, they should be full-sized vehicles or larger (such as chase trucks), and the anchorage point must be attached to the frame of the vehicle, not simply to the bumper or other loosely attached part of the vehicle. Small cars, small trucks, or trailers shall not be used for ground anchorage points. Care should be taken to assure the tether lines will not chafe against any rough surface such as vehicle bumpers, posts, etc.
Tether lines must be at least 5/8-inch nylon rope (load strength of 8,800 pounds) and in good condition or equivalent. Whether a top tether, basket tether, or tether harness is used depends on the make of the balloon and the pilot’s preference.
Tethered rides may rise to a maximum height of 70 feet. The pilot-in-command will determine additional height restrictions based on conditions at that time and length of tether lines.
The number of passengers allowed in the balloon for any flight shall be determined by the pilot-in-command. This number must be in accordance with the balloon manufacturer’s recommendations.
Time of Day/Weather Considerations
The tether event must occur between the hours of sunrise and sunset. No BSA hot-air balloon tether events will occur outside of these hours. Winds of six miles per hour (five knots) or more can cause serious problems for tethered balloon operations and must be avoided. To avoid heat, thermals, and thunderstorms, tethers are best completed in the early morning hours, before 10 a.m. Late morning success drops to about 50 percent, and by afternoon, success drops to just 15 percent. On occasion, tethered rides are successful later in the day about two hours before sunset.
Weather conditions are another serious consideration. Wind, rain, and lighting are to be avoided with hot-air balloons. There should be no rain within 50 miles of the tether location and no thunderstorms within 75 miles of the location. It is best to disappoint people rather than put them at risk of injury. Visibility and ceiling limitations of the FAA regulations will be adhered to at all times. The pilot- in-command will make this final call in conjunction with the BSA representative of the event.
Arrangements should be made for five to six crew members to help inflate and deflate the balloon and for crowd control and public relations. Crew members should be at the site at least one hour prior to launch and will need to be available the entire time the balloon is inflated. They will also need to help pack up after the event.
Crew members should wear appropriate attire, clean leather gloves, and no open-toe shoes. Please keep in mind that there are physical aspects to crewing as well as knowledge of knots. Crew members may be provided by the pilot or made up of able-bodied adult volunteers. Adults are required due to the requirements for weight to handle the balloon and for handling the lines and balloon equipment that may be too heavy for some. The crew will receive and take directions from only the pilot-in-command. The pilot will conduct a safety and coordination briefing with all crew regarding their assignments and duties prior to the launch of the balloon.
Promoting the Event
Important words in promoting a balloon event are “wind and weather permitting.” Use this phrase in all promotional material. Because weather is unpredictable, a backup plan should be considered, especially when the balloon is the only event on your schedule. Consult your pilot regarding a backup plan.
- The balloon must be registered with the FAA.
- The balloon must be constructed, certificated, maintained, and operated in accordance with various Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) (Parts 43, 61, and 91).
- The pilot must hold a commercial certification, be properly rated on the aircraft, and must be onboard when passengers are carried.
- The pilot and balloon must carry insurance in the amount of $1 million, and the BSA must be named as an additional insured on the policy. (This may require additional pre-planning for the event).
- Reference contacts must be provided and checked before the event.
- Waivers must be provided for the passengers and crew in advance of the event.
Q. We have a friend who is a hot-air balloon pilot. Can he provide rides to Scouts in our unit?
A. Possibly. The pilot must hold a commercial certification, have at least 100 hot-air balloon flying hours, be properly rated on the hot-air balloon, and must provide proof of insurance in the amount of $1 million. The hot-air balloon must also be constructed, certified, and maintained in accordance with FAA requirements.
Q. My Scout gets nervous with heights. How will that affect the adventure?
A. If the youth’s anxiety is great, he or she may not enjoy the adventure. The pilot should be able to answer any questions the youth may have to put him or her at ease. With that in mind, the final determination on passenger eligibility will be with the pilot. In a hot-air balloon tether flight, the pilot can return to the ground rather quickly with an uncomfortable youth.
Q. What are the clothing requirements for a hot-air balloon tether flight?
A. Generally, the pilot will make any specific determinations regarding clothing for a hot-air balloon flight. Check with the pilot prior to the flight so that all potential passengers wear the proper clothing. In most cases, the official Scout uniform will be adequate. Nylon clothing and jackets should be avoided because of the heat from the burners and the potential for static electricity.
Q. Is there an age limit for a participant in a hot-air balloon tether flight?
A. Any age limit will be set at the pilot’s discretion. The routine criteria for passengers are that they be capable of standing flat-footed in the balloon basket and be able to see over the basket side wall. Passengers who cannot see over the side wall will stand on their toes or have a tendency to climb on the side of the basket, which presents a fall hazard.
Q. Are there any medical forms required for a hot-air balloon tether flight?
A. There are no special medical forms necessary for a hot-air balloon tether flight. Signed permission or consent forms must be maintained as with other Scouting events. Flying waivers will be required for all passengers and crew members of the event, signed by the appropriate parent or guardian, if necessary.