Hot-Air Balloon Safety in Turkey

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Hot air balloons in Turkey are licensed, regulated aircraft. Pilots must meet certain standards of training, experience, age and health to be licensed. Hot air balloon companies must carry insurance coverage.

In Turkey, the Ministry of Transportation, Directorate-General of Civil Aviation, is the licensing authority for hot air ballooning companies, just as it is for airlines.

Safe Flying Conditions

In recent years the Directorate-General has increased the level of safety regulation. Unlike in the past, when each balloon company decided whether atmospheric conditions were suitable for safe flight, the General-Directorate now decides this and all companies must comply.

Safe, but There's Still Risk

Of course, every balloon company wants to operate safely. No one wants an accident or injury.

However, the system is not perfect. I receive reports of occasional accidents, of pilots' licenses not being renewed (but the pilots' flying anyway), of insurance coverage lapsing or being revoked and not being renewed, of pilot error, of equipment failure.

In other words, safe as it is, with thousands of flights being completed safely every month, hot air ballooning in Cappadocia still involves some risk.

Even with the best equipment, the most experienced ground crews and pilots, the most thorough safety procedures, accidents can happen, just as they do with commercial airlines.

The risk is increasing as hot-air balloon flights in Cappadocia become ever more popular. More and more balloons launch at the same time, and try to crowd into the same picturesque valleys at the same time.

How Accidents Happen

The danger is not that these aircraft may collide horizontally but, rather, vertically: if a balloon rises into the basket of another balloon, its fabric envelope (the "balloon" part filled with hot air) may be damaged, causing loss of hot air and a too-rapid descent to the ground.

At this point I must re-emphasize that Cappadocian balloon companies launch literally hundreds of flights every day (25 ballooning companies and 220 registered balloons, some doing two flights daily), and accidents are extremely rare.

Accidents are also unpredictable and can happen to anyone, even to the most safety-conscious companies and staff.

It's almost impossible to know if a pilot's license has expired or been revoked, or if insurance coverage has lapsed. And no one in the region wants to talk about the rare accidents and injuries, lest this discourage visitors from flying in hot air balloons, as ballooning is an important aspect of the regional economy.

Even the government regulatory authority is unwilling to release such information, except perhaps in the case of a fatal accident.

Choose a Reputable Company!

So how are you to choose a company?

Although it can be difficult to ascertain safety-consciousness, and realizing that accidents can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone, I urge you to put some thought into choosing a balloon company.

Here are the companies I think should be good.

If you don't choose one of those companies, I strongly suggest that you get the help of one of my recommended travel agencies.

It's a bad idea to book your flight through someone you meet on the street, in a restaurant, carpet shop, etc. Their interest is in earning a commission from the ballooning company. They may have no interest in your safety or satisfaction. According to law, only travel agencies or the balloon companies themselves can accept your reservations, so make your reservation directly with the ballon company, or through a trustworthy travel agency.

Travel agencies have an interest in your safety and satisfaction (as do I). If you have complaints, a travel agency can help you to obtain satisfaction. They are also likely to recommend a balloon company they believe to be safe and reliable, not just any company that pays the highest sales commissions.

Watch Out for Fakes & Scams

Be aware that there are fake websites purporting to be the most-trusted balloon companies. These fake websites make you think that you are reserving your places with good companies, but at the last moment they will tell you that the company "overbooked," and they will transfer you to another company (which pays them a large commission). The company to which you are transferred may or may not be trustworthy, but if it does business like this, can you trust it?

—by Tom Brosnahan


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