Balloon Repair Station

Talking to EASA April 2014 – The Experience according to Don

In 1900 Jerome K Jerome wrote a comic book “Three men on the Bummel” about three young Englishmen taking a holiday in Germany. He wrote that most young Englishmen do not consider that they have had a good holiday unless they get in trouble with the authorities. For this reason he thought Germany the ideal destination, because there are so many regulations that it is really easy to get into trouble.

More than a century later, this clash of cultures still persists. In Britain we make a regulation only if a significantly bad result would otherwise happen. In Germany, if anything is desirable, if must be regulated. The Germans are a wonderful people in so many ways – their achievements are high in many fields and it is always a pleasure to visit Germany. But there is a fundamental and deep-rooted difference in attitudes to regulation and the importance of leaving individuals with the freedom to take their own decisions.

Although EASA has been a disaster for general aviation, it seems that it is now finally being recognised that cut-down airliner rules are not the best thing for GA and certainly not for balloons. EASA has been speaking a great deal recently of a move to lighter “risk-based” regulation. Perhaps my little cry for help may be well timed to add a little to the mountain of complaints that has already been made.

After I wrote my piece about Regulation and the Balloon Industry and circulated it widely, I received many complimentary emails from balloonists and other sporting fliers. Those from people who actually do sporting aviation have been totally supportive. I am also very grateful for the help of Mr Ashley Fox MEP. There have been too many to reply to individually, so please excuse this mass-mailing.

The UK CAA has been supportive and I received an invitation from Mr Patrick Ky the head of EASA to meet at their offices in Köln on 9th April 2014. In the event, Mr Ky was not present and the meeting was chaired by Mr Jules Kneepkens. Mr Tony Rapson, head of the CAA’s GA unit and Mr Ian Chadwick, the CAA’s balloon specialist also attended the meeting. I give below a report of my experience of attending the meeting at Köln and also, in the appendix, a copy of the final version of my original paper.

There is a fundamental problem with the European Union. Whereas it was possible within one country to negotiate change, the complexity of national governments, Council of Ministers, the Commission and the limited powers of the European Parliament make it impossible for any small business person to bring any pressure on officialdom. This complexity means that officials of European agencies are free to do as they please without redress. They further reinforce their control by having a charade of consultation in which we are frequently invited to review documents of many hundreds of pages.

European cooperation is important, but the present arrangement does not work. Some looser relationship is necessary and that is a big political issue in the United Kingdom at the present time. The results of the recent elections show that the resentment of the EU goes much wider than general aviation. As our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said, “The European Union has got too big, too bossy, too interfering”.


The graph above (for which I am indebted to John Hartley) expresses succinctly how the situation appears to us.

I am rather pessimistic about the future of our sport; many people have said to me that they think our golden age is in the past. I think that my little exercise has contributed only a little as one of the many, many complaints that are being made about EASA’s incompetence in the regulation of sporting aviation. We all need to continue our complaints. There are some signs that the message is beginning to be heard, but it is slow and reluctant. Whether any concessions will be enough to prevent the demise of our ancient form of flying, I cannot tell.

Here is the report of the meeting of 9th April; I began with some prepared remarks:

Thank you for organising this meeting.

It has been suggested to me that the best way of making progress is to be friendly and polite. Of course, I will do that, but I hope you will understand that it is not easy. I am angry about the effect of this Agency on the ballooning movement and about the damage that has been done by inappropriate regulation. I, like most people in sporting flying, am very angry indeed. I have already had the task of telling people who have worked for more than 10 years in ballooning that they must leave their jobs. I know many sporting balloonists who are deciding to give up. I am angry that this Agency has done such substantial damage in people’s lives and that Mr Ky is not willing to spare even a few hours to hear about it.

I take part in many discussions in the world of sporting aviation and I would like to ask you to understand the disaster that is happening. At many of these meetings things have completely changed. In the International Balloon Commission, National Aero Clubs and balloon federations it is now typical to spend large amounts of time complaining about EASA and trying to think of ways of limiting the damage. Here is a copy of the General Aviation magazine – half its content is complaining about EASA. And here is a copy of the current UK balloon magazine – the same thing is there [I held up the April 2014 editions of AOPA’s “General Aviation” and “The Aerostat”.]

The main source of our troubles is that balloons are being treated with rules made for airliners. These are wrong for most types of sport flying, but it is worse for balloons because balloons do not resemble airliners at all. All the bad rules for balloons come from aeroplane rules carelessly applied.

I have raised the subjects that we are going to discuss, because the level of inappropriate regulation in ballooning has reached a crisis point.

It costs around €180 per hour for a sporting pilot to run a balloon, taking all physical costs into account, but when the regulatory cost is added it will now rise to three times that amount (for a private pilot who flies once a month) with much more inconvenience too. It is profoundly depressing – older pilots feel that they will have to give up and new entrants are deterred.

If there were no regulatory system at all, everything that is needed could be done by the balloon sport federations either free or for a tiny fraction of that cost.

Other sports like sailing, mountaineering, horse riding and skiing are more dangerous than ballooning, but they do not suffer the same burden of inappropriate regulation because they are not tied to aeroplanes.

The source of all of the trouble is that inappropriate regulation is taken from aeroplanes. This has always been our problem, but after 40 years of negotiation and experience it had been largely solved with the CAA in the UK, but it has restarted with a vengeance at EASA. In fact, they treat all GA like airliners. It is important to keep pointing out that balloons do not resemble aeroplanes – not even slightly.

Balloons are simple devices and they travel slowly; they have a much better safety record for fatal accidents than other air sports. Their airworthiness needs are far less than aeroplanes. For forty years, we had a voluntary CofA in the UK and not one single accident occurred that could have been prevented by a more rigorous system. How big a field experiment would you need to be convinced that compulsory airworthiness is not needed?

For 230 years there has never been an accident that was caused by a balloon pilot’s medical incapacity*. This is for the good reason that an unpiloted balloon will descend like a parachute. A landing in a balloon can always be made within a minute or so, if the emergency is enough to neglect farmers’ crops and other courtesies. Once again we must ask how big a field experiment would you need to be convinced that costly medical examinations are not needed for balloonists?

Balloons now must have expensive insurance based on a rule made for aeroplanes with no account taken of the difference in risk. In 230 years no fatality to a third party has been caused by a manned balloon and the risk to property is much less than that from aeroplanes. Again, how big a field experiment do you need?

The piloting skills required for ballooning are much less than those needed for aeroplanes. Our good safety record does not come because our pilots are better that aeroplane pilots. It comes because the balloon needs less skill; anyone who can drive a car can fly a balloon. Yet you give us the expensive training and recency requirements that come from aeroplanes.

I do not know whether we can wind back this avalanche of bureaucracy that has descended upon us. But, if we cannot, the sport of ballooning will be reduced to a small fraction of its former numbers.

I have set out some suggestions in my document entitled “Some Solutions…”; I will be grateful if we can discuss them.

Most of the topics I had requested were discussed in the meeting that followed, lasting two and a half hours. Some of these were:

Create a unified system of manufacturers’ approval instead of the four separate approvals for design, production, maintenance and airworthiness management.
Mr Juan Anton appeared to have sympathy with this request, but said there were difficulties because the design and production approvals were done by EASA whereas the Part M approvals were done by national authorities. This will be discussed further at a meeting in May.

The EASA notes of the meeting said “in May on the EASA committee, an important issue will be discussed that contains alleviations for the balloon industry (Opinion 10/2013 related to the Part-M General Aviation task Force).

Make Certificates of Airworthiness for non CAT balloons voluntary. I do not think we obtained an opinion on that.

Do not require an ARC with balloons. EASA will study the possibility of combining the CRS and the ARC to a single document. (during Phase II of the Part-M General Aviation Task Force).

Raise the age limits for CAT in balloons to 70 or on medical assessment. EASA will review the age limit of balloon pilots (based on safety data). Ian Chadwick of the UK CAA is supporting this and has done work in assembling data.

Reduce the medical requirement for private balloon pilots to a declaration (see UK CAA Form SRG 1203). The summary of the meeting said that EASA will review the medical for balloon pilots (making use of safety data). Mrs Annette Ruge, EASA’s chief medical specialist (German) did not seem sympathetic to reducing the medical requirements, despite the “safety data” being 230 years without a mishap* and being unable to offer any counterexample to this claim. She said that they had decided that the pilot of anything that rose into the air should have a medical. We will have to be persistent to get EASA to meet their promise of risk-based regulation.

Exempt balloons from the biannual instructor flight requirement. Despite this being the case for 40 years in the UK, Mr Matthias Borgmeier (German) was against it. He claimed that ballooning was the most dangerous of the air sports, thus displaying a disgraceful ignorance for a person involved in rulemaking. In fact, the fatal accident record of balloons is the safest of the air sports by a very long way.

Allow recency on one type of balloon to maintain validity on all types. It will be expensive to make flights in every type of balloon (prohibitively so for Rozières). But there seemed to be a lack of sympathy for this.

Do not require recency for tethering or night. No easement offered.

Simplify or eliminate the ATO. The meeting notes say “There is a special workshop on ATO for the GA lower end. The industrial parties are requested to make sure that the EAS representative takes active participation.”

Do not require qualification of theory instructors, do not require classroom hours. Mr Borgmeier (German) again displayed our clash of cultures. We would say that no bad effect can be demonstrated from the last forty years, so why increase the burden? He said that it seemed self-evident that is better to have qualified instructors and classroom time, therefore it should be so regulated.

Allow some flight training with pilots who are not instructors. This has worked fine for forty years, but Mr Borgmeier thinks it needs to be tightened up and does not care much about the cost and inconvenience.

Do not require balloons used for training to be specified in advance. Borgmeier again intransigent, but Ian Chadwick said that CAA interpretation would allow the balloon to be named afterwards.

Reduce the compulsory insurance requirements. It is clear that the insurance limits decided for aeroplanes have been applied to balloons without any thought about their lower risk to third parties. We were told that the insurance rules are not made by EASA but by the Commission.


The following day, 10th April, the manufacturers’ meeting with Mr Philippe Stabenau took place.

The early sessions seemed to be of little interest, but we must hope that the EASA speak did not conceal any time-bombs.

Ultramagic made a sensible proposal to facilitate the interchangeable use of fuel cylinders in different balloons by using a cylinder record card similar to the BBAC IR6. Cameron and Lindstrand supported this, but Eric Martens from Belgium, true to form, opposed it. Of course, everyone will go on using the tanks interchangeably as they always have done, so it makes little difference.

Ultramagic gave a report on the Luxor accident which had happened one year before. I mentioned our test data on strength of fuel systems which we have shared with other manufacturers.

I then presented a report on the previous day’s meeting, repeating my introductory piece above. Many of the items were discussed. Michael Wörner mentioned the impossibility for small companies to find the time to read documents with hundreds of pages; this makes comment impossible.

The need for radios with 8.33 kHz is a problem for balloons, because no maker of hand-held radios is offering one yet.

*My claim that, in 230 years, there has been no ballooning accident due to a pilot’s medical condition needs to be qualified. There was an incident in the USA in which a pilot died, presumably from heart failure, while in flight. The two passengers suffered no injury. I would assert that this reinforces the case rather than serve as a counter-example.

Appendix – the original paper:
Regulation and the Balloon Industry.
Iss 9.

The-hot air balloon industry is small, employing perhaps less than a thousand people in the UK and ten thousand in the entire EU. But it is now being destroyed by a large and unnecessary increase in the regulatory burden.
Hot-air balloons are simple devices. They travel slowly and have no complex systems. As a result, they are the safest form of sporting flight and the statistics of general aviation accidents fully confirm this. Unfortunately, since the advent of EASA there has been a steady increase in regulatory burden and associated costs, quite unrelated to any safety benefit.
Because balloons have a much lower unit cost than other aircraft, the cost of the unnecessary bureaucracy has a disproportionate effect.
The onslaught of this over-regulation has taken time, but it is now beginning to bite. The ballooning industry is divided into three main sectors: paid passenger flights, advertising, and sport/training. It is this last group which is suffering most, because its number of flights per year is low. That causes each flight to carry hundreds of pounds of bureaucracy cost. Entry to the sport is now prohibitively expensive and there are few new pilots.
The basic cost of running a hot air balloon for a pilot making 12 flights per year has been calculated at €180/hour. The cost of satisfying the regulators is €347/hour together with great inconvenience. (See Appendix.)
The number of balloons sold by Cameron Balloons Ltd in the last few years is as follows:
2010 - 130
2011 - 122
2012 - 106
2013 - 82

Because new balloon registrations world-wide are published, we know that other balloon builders are suffering similarly, in some cases more. Both of the British manufacturers have been forced to carry out redundancies in 2013.

UK registered aircraft
Figure 7: Total fleet of UK registered aircraft 2003 to 2012, indexed (Source: CAA); showing the disproportionate decline in the number of balloons compared to other GA.

The dominant theme of EASA regulation is to treat balloons as if they were airliners. Even those who fly light aeroplanes and gliders are suffering inappropriate regulation for the same reason. Of course, balloons do not resemble airliners even slightly and the result is that useless and burdensome rules have replaced the much better British regulation which had been developed by careful negotiation between the British Balloon and Airship Club and the Civil Aviation Authority over many years.
EASA claims to consult on proposed new rules, but it is impossible for us to devote the resources to represent ourselves. At times we have been confronted with 700 page documents in which it is a massive task to disentangle the consequences for balloons from the material designed for airliners.

Some of the problems are as follows:

Manufacturers’ Approval
Under the old system, balloon manufacturers were approved by the CAA. Under EASA, a manufacturer now needs four approvals. The company must now be separately approved as a design organisation, as a production organisation, as a repair and maintenance organisation, and as an organisation able to certify continuing airworthiness. We were at first astonished to learn that as an approved manufacturer we were no longer allowed to do repairs without a further approval and cost. Each of these implies the writing of an exposition which will satisfy the bureaucrats and the payment of greatly increased fees. The increase in ongoing useless paperwork imposes a further cost and all of this expense can only end in the price of the finished product.

Certificate of Airworthiness
Under the old system a certificate of airworthiness, for private flights, was voluntary, although a very good system was operated by the British Balloon and Airship Club and most owners availed themselves of it. BBAC inspectors would usually do an annual inspection free of charge.
Over a period of 40 years, there were no serious accidents that could have been prevented by stronger airworthiness regulation. The question that must be asked is, how big a field experiment would it take to convince these people?
The new rule is that a Certificate of Airworthiness is compulsory and we need, in addition, an Airworthiness Review Certificate (ARC). This is a completely pointless certificate to certify that there is a certificate. This is all with accompanying fees. Inspectors now have so much paperwork to do (four hours or so, after an inspection that only takes one hour) that they are no longer willing to work free and some are resigning.
There is some doubt where the blame for this lies. Discussions with Netherlands inspectors reveal that the bureaucracy is much less there, while apparently complying with EASA requirements. It may be that we are suffering from CAA “gold-plating”
But once again the balloonist has to pay, pay, pay.

One less obvious effect of the voluntary system was that innovation could go ahead unhindered. The United Kingdom made almost all the technical advances in ballooning over forty years and many special flights and records were achieved. Flights such as the first balloon to fly around the world (achieved by Cameron Balloons in 1999) would now be legally impossible. This is an area in which over-regulation reduces safety.

Medical Examinations
A medical emergency in an aeroplane with a single pilot is a serious matter and could easily be fatal for all on board. Medical examinations perhaps make sense for aeroplane pilots.
But a balloon is completely different. If the pilot ceases to act, it will descend at parachute speed for a landing which will be rough, but survivable, unless there is some very unlucky ground feature.
For an incapacity with a slower onset, it is also quite different in a balloon. If an aeroplane pilot wishes to land quickly, he must find an airport. A balloon, in contrast, can almost always land within the next minute immediately below (if an emergency is bad enough to ignore courtesy to those on the ground, respect for farmer’s crops etc.).
There should be no medical requirement for balloon pilots at all. The old British system for private pilots required only a pilot’s declaration countersigned by the GP, similar to truck drivers, but now EASA is proposing to require expensive examinations by aviation doctors. Of course the doctors say it is a good idea because it is money for them. The reduced LAPL medical will still result in substantial charges.
Balloons have a lower risk to occupants and third parties than aeroplanes. They even have a lower risk than trucks or cars.
Balloons have been flying for 230 years (more than twice as long as aeroplanes). In all that time, there has never been a case of an accident caused by a pilot’s medical condition. One case of a pilot dying in flight from a medical condition in is reported from USA, but the two passengers were uninjured. Again, is this a big enough field experiment to prove that the burden is unnecessary?
It has been alleged that ICAO requires a Class 2 medical. How then do we account for the fact that no medical is applied in the USA for either private or paid-passenger ballooning?

Balloon Training
Under the old system, balloon pilots could train by flying with any pilot, with only a few flights with BBAC appointed instructors. Now EASA will require that all instruction must be with approved instructors. Even worse, these instructors must be controlled by an “Approved Training Organisation” which must keep records centrally every time a training flight is made. This creates purposeless expense.
Forming an Approved Training Organisation, which the BBAC is trying to do, means once again the writing of pointless manuals and, of course, the payment of yet more fees by the ATO and by the instructors.
Can you believe that the exposition that the BBAC had to prepare to form an ATO has 184 pages?
These costs will be passed to the trainees. Smaller European countries will not have the resources to do this and their student pilots will have to go to other countries to train. The discouragement of new entrants could not be greater.
Under the old system an exemplary safety record, far superior to aeroplanes, was achieved, because balloons are simpler than aeroplanes. Once again it must be asked is, how big a field experiment would it take to convince these people?
Why should balloon pilots have any more bureaucracy than small boat sailors, horse and wagon drovers or bicyclists? Once again the reason is that they are being unthinkingly bundled with aeroplanes.

Requirement for Instructor Ratings
For centuries balloon pilots have learned by flying with other pilots during sporting flying with much better safety than aeroplanes. Once again it must be asked is, how big a field experiment would it take to convince these people? New requirements to have all flights with rated instructors will greatly increase costs. No evidence appears to have been studied concerning the costs and benefits of these new rules, as usual.

Licence Renewal
EASA is going to demand that every balloon pilot must periodically make a revalidation flight with an examiner. This will take time and cost and has no justification in the accident rate. But it is what is done with airliners…
This is a greater burden for balloonists than aeroplane pilots because of the need to assemble crew, equipment, instructor and weather at the same time.

The requirement for six hours and 10 flights in 24 months is reasonable, but it will be very difficult to do this in every different type of balloon. For example, the combination helium/hot air balloon (Rozière) is very expensive and is used only for records and other very special flights. A need to remain current as proposed would eliminate this type of balloon completely.
Currently training for the Rozière is carried out as theoretical study only, because the physical piloting of the balloon differs little from other balloons, but an understanding of the physics is much more important than in other types.
Tethering and night flying in balloons are skills which do not decay with time. They should not be subject to recency requirements.

EASA has introduced compulsory insurance at high limits and, for many sporting balloonists, this has added hundreds of Euros to the cost of each flight. The risks from balloons are much less than those from aeroplanes. For example, if a balloon were to land among a crowd of people, they could bring it to a stop with their hands. No manned balloon in the 230-year history of ballooning has ever caused a fatality to a third party. But once again, the aeroplane regulation has been applied to balloons without further thought. [For a sporting balloon, 1.5M SDR + 0.25M SDR/passenger; 1 SDR = €1.13]

Age Limits
EASA is placing a limit of age 65 on commercial balloon pilots despite the fact that retirement ages generally are rising above this to 67 or 70. Once again, there appears to be an uncritical application of aeroplane rules, despite the skills required to pilot a balloon being very different from those required for aeroplanes. Speeds are much lower and experience is more important than rapid reaction and co-ordination is not required. Despite the severe impact of this ruling on individuals, EASA (as usual) does not appear to have taken the trouble to investigate the level of risk before rulemaking.

And there is more
The new bureaucracy is showing no sign of slowing. There are new announcements at regular intervals. Pilots must obtain a certificate of language proficiency in English (less of a problem for us, but a barrier for some of our customers). Pilots have to attend seminars, at a cost in time and money, instructors and examiners have greater initial and ongoing training requirements and, of course, more fees which they have to recover from students.

The Latest
Only two days after I had finished writing the above, a new burden arrived. The British Civil Aviation Authority (which is now a branch office of EASA) has announced an “initiative” to demand that we should make audit visits to our UK and overseas suppliers accompanied by a CAA inspector. They add the condition “The costs will be recoverable from the Production Organisation Approval holder.” This has been dreamt up, despite there being no safety problem in the last 40 years with our existing quality control system that could suggest that it might be useful. In this case, the CAA is “gold plating” the already excessive EASA regulations.

Don Cameron, Cameron Balloons Ltd, Bristol BllnReg9.doc
April 2014



Photos: Balloons are not the same as airliners!

Appendix: Costs of Satisfying the Regulators
Costs fall disproportionately on the sporting balloonist because their number of flights is small. Some of the costs below are not precisely known and may change, but the total gives a reasonable indication. The cost of running a balloon including depreciation, fuel and vehicle costs is perhaps £150/hour. The costs listed below do not include this cost, except when the balloon must be used to satisfy a regulatory requirement.

The costs are calculated assuming that a balloon is purchased and training carried out and then the owner flies once per month over a 25-year period.

Costs of satisfying regulators

I have a small yacht (5.25 metre, on a trailer). It can carry up to ten people. I require no pilot’s licence (I have a voluntary Royal Yacht Association Certificate, taken once never renewed), no certificate of seaworthiness is required and insurance is not compulsory (I have some at £100/year). I can launch on the sea without any official interference and risking my life is my own decision.

The cost to satisfy regulators is ZERO. Balloons are no more dangerous than yachts, but we are in this problem because we have been mixed up with aeroplanes. Other activities such as horse-riding, cycling, motor cycling, mountaineering, skiing, water sports, all have higher risk than ballooning, but they are not controlled by people who control airliners.

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