Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand
Date 09 Jan 2012


For further information contact:

Senior Communications Adviser, Emma Peel
Tel: 04 560 9646, or 027 272 3545


Background Carterton Accident: Ballooning in New Zealand

CAA Health and Safety Investigation

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is investigating to determine the cause of Saturday’s balloon accident near Carterton in which 11 people were killed.

At the same time the Civil Aviation Authority is conducting an investigation under the Health and Safety Act to consider whether the company properly carried out its responsibilities to its employees and to the passengers. The CAA will not be making interim statements throughout this investigation.

Background: Ballooning in New Zealand

Commercial ballooning companies have until 1 May this year to achieve certification under new adventure aviation rules or stop operating.

Part 115 Adventure Aviation – Certification and Operations was introduced in November 2011, after exhaustive consultation with the aviation industry. Under Part 115, balloon companies will be required to operate to similar safety standards to small airlines. The rule covers all aspects of an aviation business including airworthiness, instruments and equipment, maintenance, logs and records, qualifications and experience of pilots, ground crew and senior people, fatigue, training and quality assurance.

All adventure aviation activities including balloons, gliders, microlights, hang gliders, tandem parachutes, and vintage aircraft must achieve certification under Part 115 in order to carry fare-paying passengers. Timeframes vary, but balloon companies must achieve certification by 1 May 2012.

Until then the pre-existing arrangements for balloonists who wish to carry fare-paying passengers are that they must hold a specialised Commercial Pilot Licence (Balloon), and the balloon itself must hold a valid Certificate of Airworthiness, which requires an annual check of every aspect of the aircraft’s maintenance and documentation by a specialist aircraft maintenance engineer. Balloon companies will be required to hold Operator Certificates from 1 May 2012 when Part 115 comes into force.

Background: Previous balloon accidents

Before Saturday’s accident near Carterton, it had been more than 16 years since anyone was killed in a ballooning accident in New Zealand.

In 1995, three people died when a hot air balloon operating in the Christchurch area was swept out to sea.

Since 1992, the CAA has records of six other non-fatal accidents involving balloons. Only one of these involved a wirestrike. In 1992 a balloon landed half deflated near Hamilton after suffering a wirestrike. There were no injuries.

In 1993, a balloon’s burner set fire to the lower part of the envelope during landing near Templeton. There were no injuries. In 1993, a balloon pilot and a passenger both suffered injuries when the balloon bounced on landing near Papakura.

In 1994, a passenger received serious injuries, and two crew members and one other passengers suffered minor injuries when a balloon landed heavily in strong wind near Gordonton. In 1996, a passenger’s lower leg was broken when a balloon landed heavily after colliding with a tree near Rangiora. In 1999, a passenger suffered minor injuries during a hard landing near Himatangi beach.

In addition, the CAA has records of 20 airspace incidents involving balloons since 1992.

These typically involve balloons entering controlled airspace without a clearance. None resulted in any injuries or damage. 

Since 1992 five defects have been reported to the CAA (usually during inspection by engineers) – the last was in 2000 when it was reported that the top of a balloon canopy showed signs of corrosion.

The CAA also has records of 17 incidents involving balloons over the past 20 years. For an event to be classified as an incident there must have been no serious injury to people and no substantial damage to the balloon. For example, in 2001 a balloon struck the top of trees before landing at Glen Eden, and in 2010 a balloon on the ground at Hastings was dragged some distance by a wind squall. A person on the ground was dragged along with the balloon sustaining grazes and bruises.

Among these 17 incidents, wires were involved in six. In 1996, a balloon struck a roadside powerline at Eyrewell. The balloon climbed away and landed without damage. In 1997, a wind change caused a balloon’s basket to touch a powerline at Waimauku.  The balloon was flown away and landed elsewhere undamaged. In 2000 a balloon struck powerlines near Methven, and collapsed to the ground, without injury. Also in 2000 near Taupo, a balloon was forced into powerlines after passing through a thermal updraft. In 2002, near Papanui a balloon was blown into powerlines, causing one to snap. The balloon was undamaged. In 2007, a balloon’s tether rope caught around a powerline after a wind gust near Glenorchy. There was no damage.

Background: Enforcement

In July 2010 the Director of Civil Aviation grounded seven balloons operated by a Christchurch-based tourism company after serious safety concerns arose.  The suspension was lifted later that year after the company met the required safety standards.

The Director has since 1998 prosecuted at least four balloonists for offences such as careless operation, low flying, flying balloons that did not hold current Certificates of Airworthiness, and flying without a current medical certificate.

In addition the CAA has been working with the ballooning community over many years to reduce the damage caused to livestock, and particularly race horses, which can be frightened by over-flying balloons.

How the civil aviation system works in New Zealand