Incident and near miss reporting culture in recreational hot air ballooning

Hot air ballooning incidents are relatively rare; however, they have a high potential to be fatal. In order to inform appropriate safety interventions it is first necessary to understand the causal factors which lead to incidents and near-misses, which requires a formal incident report database. The Australian Balloon Federation (ABF) advocates the reporting of recreational hot air ballooning incidents, by reporting directly to the ABF safety officer or by completing an online incident report form. The objective of this paper is to understand how widely used the reporting system is and whether there are any perceived barriers to reporting. Sixty-nine balloonists participated in an online survey about their experience of incident reporting. Survey respondents were mostly male (11 female), experienced balloonists (mean years’ experience ballooning 19.51y with a SD 11.19). Sixty respondents (87%) held a pilot license. The majority (82.6%) of respondents were aware of the ABF incident reporting system. Over half (62.3%) had been involved in a ballooning incident or near-miss in Australia. However, 40% of those who had an incident or near-miss did not report it to the ABF and only 15.9% of all those surveyed had used the online incident report form. There was some disagreement regarding when it was appropriate to report an incident or near miss. Some respondents felt an incident or near miss should only be reported if it resulted in injury or damage, while others said near-misses should also be reported. The most frequent barriers identified were: a lack of understanding of when to report to the ABF; trivializing of incidents; and concerns about the system itself Steps should be taken to increase understanding of the system purpose and long term benefits. Specifically, reporting near-misses should be encouraged. This study is significant because it is the first to examine reporting practices in non-motorised recreational aviation.