Helium shortage changes plans for parade balloons

Balloons at this year's Gold Cup and Saucer parade — a crowd favourite — were filled with air, not the usual helium, due to a worldwide helium shortage.

Balloons at this year's Gold Cup and Saucer parade — a crowd favourite — were filled with air, not the usual helium, due to a worldwide helium shortage.

Though not exactly the same as last year’s sky high balloons, organizers made sure the shortage didn’t completely stop inflatables from marching down Charlottetown's streets.

Helium balloons were a major attraction in previous years.

Organizers say they found out just a month ago that the helium shortage would mean last year's soaring balloons wouldn't be making an appearance at this parade.

"What it meant was going back to the drawing board, picking new inflatables that took just cold air," said Heather MacLean, a parade organizer.

"Instead of flying up the air, they’re attached to platforms and we just pull the platform along," MacLean said.

Cold air is continuously fed through the bottom of each balloon with a pump.

Organizers say the air-filled balloons are actually less-expensive than helium-filled. Because of that, there were more balloons in the parade than in previous years.

Fern Yeo runs a party supply store in Charlottetown. "Right now, [we're] getting very low on helium," Yeo said.

Heather MacLean had to rethink balloons for this year's parade after learning about a helium shortage. (CBC)

She's down to one-eighth of a tank of helium and her supplier says there won't be any more until further notice.

"What they’re doing right now is saving their helium for hospitals and research, which is understandable," Yeo said.

Helium is in short supply and high demand because it plays a key part in the operation of MRI machines. Most helium is refined in the U.S. and until those refineries increase production, the gas will stay scarce.

"We’re hoping that the helium will be back next year and we can have them flying through the air," MacLean said.