What to Ask Ride Operators Before You Book a Hot Air Balloon Ride
By Tony Sandlin,
President of the Professional Rides Operators Division of the BFA
Are you ready to book a balloon ride, but you know you need to ask more questions? Are you unsure of what questions to ask? Did you know that the questions you should be asking are at the tip of your fingers? Everything you should ask can be found in the Envelope of Safety Program, which I will share with you here.
A little history first.
Back in 2011 a group of devoted commercial hot air balloon pilots started what is now called the Professional Ride Operators, a division of the BFA (Balloon Federation of America). The goal of the organization was to set guidelines for all operators to agree to and abide by. The Industry Best Practices Guidelines were created and defined what all operators should strive to do and be. In 2018, with encouragement from the Federal Aviation Administration and with more work from this dedicated group of commercial hot air balloon pilots, the Envelope Of Safety Program was born.
The Envelope of Safety Program (EOS) started out as program for pilots to have to prove themselves and meet certain criteria to achieve various levels.
The program is divided into two parts: pilot requirements, and ride operator requirements. Pilot requirements applies to all pilots taking paying passengers. For ride operators, we delve into three levels: Silver, Gold, and Platinum. While any size company can achieve the highest level, the tiered structure was designed with different size companies in mind.
Any company that meets the following criteria and is a member of the Professional Ride Operators Division has achieved the status of Silver Medal Holder.
✓ Company applicant must provide proof of valid aircraft insurance for each aircraft it owns that takes paying passengers.
✓ Company applicant must provide proof that all aircraft used to accommodate paying passengers has passed an annual inspection – verified by scanned copy of logbook.
✓ Company applicant must not have had more than 2 accidents, incidents, or occurrences attributed to an aircraft or pilot in the last 3 years.
✓ Company applicant must have been established as a company for a minimum of 18 months – verified by date of organization.
✓ Company applicant owner/operator must be a member of the Balloon Federation of America.
✓ Company applicant must have a presence within a forum that allows for customers to rate and review the company such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook, Google, etc.
✓ Company applicant must have two verifiable industry references.
✓ Company applicants must maintain a website that;
- Accurately discloses all policies of the company such as: cancellation policies, pricing, weight limits, surcharges, gift certificate refund policies, etc.
- Does not contain inaccurate or misleading information
- Does not maliciously injure the professional reputation, prospects or business of others
✓ Company applicant must provide proof of valid commercial vehicle insurance for any vehicle it uses to transport paying passengers.
✓ All pilots who operate aircraft owned by Company applicant for the purpose of taking paying passengers must satisfy the PRO pilot criteria.
To achieve Gold Medal status, applicants must have achieved Silver Medal status and satisfy the additional criteria below.
✓ Company applicants have notified the Flight Standards District Office governing the area where balloon ride operations are based (contact info, flying area, general scope of operations).
✓ Company applicant has written policy which establishes procedure for collecting and storing weather information for each flight.
✓ Company applicant has written policy which establishes procedure for executing and storing passenger liability waivers for all passengers.
✓ Company applicant has policy that each balloon will be staffed with pilot or crew personnel that have received CPR and/or emergency first aid training.
✓ Company applicant must not have had more than one accidents, incidents, or occurrences attributed to an aircraft or pilot in the last 3 years.
To achieve Platinum Medal status, applicants must have achieved Gold Medal status and satisfy the additional criteria below.
✓ Company applicant mandates that all pilots participate in a random drug screening at least once a year – verified by sending receipts for drug testing services each year.
✓ Company applicant has written policies for crew safety.
✓ Company applicant must not have had any accidents, incidents, or occurrences attributed to an aircraft or pilot within the last 3 years.
After reading through the program, if you still aren’t sure what to ask, here is a list of questions that are based on the Level 1 criteria of the Envelope of Safety Program
1. Does your company have valid insurance for each balloon it takes paying passengers?
2. Has the balloon used to accommodate paying passengers had annual inspections?
3. Has your company had any accidents, incidents, or occurrences attributed to a balloon or pilot in the last 3 years?
4. Has your company been established for a minimum of 18 months?
5. Do the vehicles used to transport paying passengers have valid commercial vehicle insurance?