The Transportation Safety Board has again urged Ottawa to tighten rules for commercial hot air balloon operators, after issuing a final report on a crash near Winnipeg in 2007 in which several people were seriously injured.
Regulations governing operation of hot air balloons fall short of those for other commercial passenger aircraft, the TSB reiterated Wednesday, adding the recreation activity should still be considered safe.
In its final report stemming from the crash-landing of a balloon near Winnipeg in August 2007, the board called for balloons to be outfitted with a simple emergency fuel shut-off system that could be quickly used during emergencies.
The TSB also found the ill-fated Winnipeg flight took place in windier conditions than the flight manual prescribed, and that the fuel system wasn't shut down quickly once the apparatus got into trouble.
But there are no specific regulations governing safe wind-speed operation, fuel shut-off, or fuel-line design, the TSB said.
"Because the balloon was not deflated quickly, the basket dragged for some 700 feet and the integrity of the burner support structure was lost," the report says. "As the basket was dragged across the ground the fuel line fittings were pulled out [causing] … a fire and explosion."
Several hot air balloon accidents across Canada in 2007 raised questions about industry safety.
Weeks after the Aug. 11, 2007, crash in Winnipeg, two people died and 11 were injured when a hot air balloon caught fire then crashed in a trailer park in Surrey, B.C. And in September 2007, passengers emerged unscathed when a balloon in Calgary was blown into power lines.
In the Manitoba crash, a pilot and two passengers were seriously injured and four other people sustained minor injuries when the balloon crash-landed in a farmer's field northeast of Winnipeg. There were 12 people, including a child, aboard the balloon, operated by Sundance Balloons.
Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Hildebrand said ballooning can be quite safe on a calm day with proper equipment.
"If things are as they were on this occasion then you get toward the other end of the scale," he noted. "It's not that balloon operators are absolutely unsafe. We are saying there's a lot that is left to be desired in terms of how they're treated here."
The Firefly 12-B balloon hit the ground several times, and strong winds dragged it some distance before the basket overturned and burst into flames.
The safety board noted that the balloon's design did not incorporate a single lever to shut down the multiple tanks, nor was it required to under existing regulations. Transport Canada has been reviewing the TSB recommendations but has yet to announce any new regulations governing the industry.
In the Winnipeg crash, there were other contributing factors that led to the crash and explosion, the TSB said.
"Fuel supply hoses … one of which was used to connect the inflator tank, did not meet the required airworthiness standard," the report said. Also, there was "no mandated equipment for passenger restraint or personal protective equipment to reduce injury during a dragged landing."
In its interim report last March, the TSB said it wants to see Transport Canada establish rules for hot air balloons similar to commercial aircraft of comparable passenger-carrying size but did not outline specific changes.
The president of Sundance Balloons said last March when the TSB issued its interim report that his company will abide by any recommendations.