What could stop a hot air balloon flight?
Hot air ballooning is an exciting way to celebrate a momentous occasion like an anniversary or birthday, but it’s worth remembering that as with any outdoor event, the weather may play an important part on the day.
For the sake of safety and passenger enjoyment, balloon rides must be cancelled by balloon companies if weather conditions don’t allow for flight.
Unsuitable weather is the main cause of cancellation, particularly in this country, as British weather can be notoriously tricky to predict. Colder polar air coming in from the north pushes against warmer air coming up from the tropics, creating very changeable conditions in the UK that are difficult to forecast at times.
Before flying, pilots consult specialist aviation weather reports. The conditions might seem fine for flight but if these forecasts predict hazardous elements on the horizon flights, must be postponed. This may be to the bemusement of would-be flyers, who wonder why their flights are being cancelled on what seems like a lovely day for it.
While it’s disappointing when you can’t fly, a balloon company will accommodate you with a rescheduled trip at your convenience if flights are stopped for reasons beyond its control.
Ideal weather for a balloon ride
The optimum weather conditions for a hot air balloon flight are dry with clear visibility and gentle winds.
Balloon flights are best conducted in winds between four and six miles per hour. Although it’s perfectly possible to fly in winds of up to 10 miles an hour, at this point the balloon can be tough to control. Landing the craft safely in strong winds can also be problematic for balloon pilots and is best avoided.
Hot air balloons travel on the breeze, however, so some wind is essential for an enjoyable flight. While no wind at all would make a flight perfectly safe, the balloon would be unable to cover any distance.
Limited visibility not only means balloon passengers will be unable to appreciate the exceptional views offered by the flight, but can make landing difficult. In poor visibility, a pilot may struggle to see a safe spot to put down.
Dry weather is better for flights, as balloons use hot air to rise in height. The properties of rain cause the air contained in balloons to cool and forces the pilot to make sustained use of the burner.
Specialist aviation forecasts
Qualified balloon pilots, just like aeroplane pilots, make good use of specialist METAR (Meteorological Aerodrome Report ) and TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) systems to check weather conditions.
METAR forecasts are issued at half-hour and hourly intervals, making them incredibly up to date. If a substantial change to the weather for the better or worse is noted, a SPECI (Special) report is generated informing when the significant change is expected.
Similar to METAR the TAF system delivers a concise report of weather conditions. Supplied in the form of a short code a TAF indicates the area, time and date of origin, term of forecast, and weather conditions including visibility, wind speed, cloud cover, mist, and rain.
These specialist forecasts offer pilots more precise information on the elements than reports from local radio and television. While weather at the launch site might be both warm and dry with gentle winds, detailed METAR data could forecast a heavy downpour due in half an hour.
Hot air balloon pilots require assurance of fair weather for the entire duration of a flight. Typical rides are between one to two hours in length and conditions must be favourable for the maximum term.
Adverse conditions for flying
Travelling by hot air balloon is a thrilling experience for passengers, but balloons can only be flown in certain meteorological conditions.
For passenger safety, winds that blow over 10 to 12 miles per hour are considered too severe for ballooning. The faster winds make balloons more difficult to fill with heated air and the strong gusts can carry them beyond suitable landing zones into urban locations and even over bodies of water. Meanwhile, no wind at all can also hamper the choices of safe landing spots.
For flight safety, balloon pilots required a good level of visibility. They should always be able to see between one and three miles from the balloon.
Unlike helicopters and aeroplanes balloons, are unable to fly out of the path of oncoming rain storms so are unable to fly in such conditions. Rain that falls on the exterior of the balloon cools the temperature of the air held within. In weather conditions like this, the pilot is forced to use the balloons on-board burner to heat the air and keep it buoyant, making the balloon far more challenging to control. Only a limited quantity of propane can be carried on board a balloon.
Fair weather cancellations
The weather may seem perfectly fine to passengers on the day, but if poor or problematic weather conditions are predicted for any point in a flight’s duration, it must be cancelled. Up-to-date and accurate local forecasts will always be consulted before balloon rides are cleared for launch.
The pilot’s maxim is that even if the forecast bad weather doesn’t come, the decision to postpone the flight was still the correct one going by the available information.
Priorities of balloon companies
Passenger safety is paramount to balloon companies. If the weather forecast is not deemed safe for flight, the ride must be stopped, but you don’t need to worry about rescheduling, it couldn’t be simpler. Balloon companies will allocate a new date of your choosing and you’ll soon be up in the air.
Flight providers never like being forced to cancel rides and disappoint customers, but fully accept the responsibility for passenger safety and what that entails. Taking a hot air balloon ride is a rare and incredible experience and its vital to balloon companies that you enjoy ballooning at its best – and safest.
Witnessing the beautiful countryside below while drifting through the skies on a gentle breeze, you should feel no chill or rain and be gently warmed by the mild rays of the morning or evening sun. Favourable winds will ensure you’ll cover plenty of ground, making the trip worthwhile, and clear skies with no fog or mist will allow you to see outstanding vistas and make memories you and your friends and family can cherish forever.