Key points

  • Sightseeing balloons collided near Alice Springs after pilot misjudged speed and direction of the other balloon;
  • Pilot then managed the balloon's descent to avoid a basket to envelope collision, reducing the risk of damage;
  • Investigation report reminds all pilots to review guidance on decision making and collision avoidance.

A mid-air collision between two sightseeing balloons near Alice Springs last year highlights the importance of pilots evaluating all available options to support good decision-making, according to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation.

On the morning of 18 July 2022, a pair of hot air balloons, operated by Red Centre Ballooning, left a launch site 7 km south-east of Alice Springs Airport, in the Northern Territory.

One balloon carried a pilot and 23 passengers, while the other carried a pilot and 10 passengers.

About 15 minutes after take-off, the smaller balloon was about 800 ft above and 1.1 km behind the larger balloon, when its pilot began to descend towards a lower channel of air, in an attempt to slow down.

“Before descending, the pilot misjudged the speed and direction of the larger balloon,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said.

“Instead of descending behind it, the smaller balloon tracked towards a collision with the larger one.”

A balloon collision at Alice Springs in 1989 resulted in fatal injuries to a pilot and 12 passengers, after the basket of one balloon collided with the envelope of another.

“Fortunately, in this case, the pilot of the smaller balloon recognised a collision was likely, and managed the descent so that a basket-to-envelope collision did not occur,” Mr Mitchell said.

Instead, the balloons’ envelopes collided, and no damage or injuries occurred.

“While the pilots were able to avoid damage during this collision, this incident highlights the importance of evaluating all available options to support good decision making.”

The ATSB’s investigation report directs pilots to review the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)’s resource booklet, Decision Making.

“You cannot improvise a good decision, you must prepare for it,” Mr Mitchell said.

“You will make a better and timelier final decision if you have considered all options in advance.”

The ATSB’s report also notes this incident highlights the risks of misinterpreting what is seen, and pilots should review CASA’s Advisory Circular 91-14, Pilots’ responsibility for collision avoidance.

“Not only is seeing important, but accurately interpreting what is seen is equally vital,” Mr Mitchell concluded.

Read the ATSB’s final report: AO-2022-037 Mid-air collision between hot air balloons VH-FSR and VH-OOP, 6 km southeast of Alice Springs Airport, Northern Territory on 18 July 2022

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