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Up, up, and away: Why don't you see hot air balloons in Metro Vancouver?

There used to be a hot air balloon business in Langley but it's gone too.
Here's why you'll never see a hot air balloon floating through the sky above Metro Vancouver. Hot air balloons in Stanley Park in 1986. AM1576-S6-12-F65-: 2011-010.571.

Hot air balloons are a mode of transportation the average person doesn't spend much time thinking about.

Short of Finneas Fogg's miraculous journey circumnavigating the globe in 80 days, they're not a very practical means of travel from point A to point B. But many people consider hot air balloon rides to be something of a bucket list experience, like paragliding.

Unlike paragliding, however, you're unlikely to spot a hot air balloon traversing the skies over Metro Vancouver.

Hot air balloons are largely associated with places like Turkey or New Mexico (Albuquerque hosts the International Balloon Fiesta every year). There used to be a company in Langley, Sundance Balloons, that conducted rides but it closed several years ago.

Now, Vancouverites looking to float through the skies in a tiny basket will have to travel as far as Kelowna to the nearest hot air balloon business.

Okanagan Ballooning owner John Klempner says that Sundance Balloons likely closed due to costs. The franchise consolidated all of its B.C. pilots to Alberta where it runs several offices, plus they have locations in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

He also blames obstacles to getting new pilots as many of the old guard are aging out.

"Young guys are going for jet engines," he tells V.I.A. over the phone. "There's more money to be made there."

Ballooning, in its infancy, began as a hobby, albeit an expensive one. Now you can make a modest living at it, says Klempner, but the cost of insurance, equipment, training, and licensing adds up and, as we all know, Vancouver is an expensive place to live.

Why you won't see hot air balloons over Metro Vancouver

"Balloons like wide open areas," says Klempner.

The vessels are considered aircraft and are federally regulated by Transport Canada which has rules about landing spots in proximity to airports and other infrastructure.

More big airports nearby mean it's harder to fly and there are fewer landing spots, which automatically means that Vancouver and Abbotsford are out, and Klempner admits he's concerned for the future of the business in Kelowna because of the increase in development and inevitable airport expansion.

"In five years I don't foresee any ballooning in Kelowna anymore," he says.

There is another way that people can experience hot air balloons in urban areas, however. Tethered rides can be done almost anywhere, according to Klempner. All you need is 200 x 200 feet of tether tied to four vehicles.

In fact, Klempner's company just had a tethered hot air balloon at the Abbotsford tulip festival.

Looking back through the Vancouver Archives, there was a tethered hot air balloon display in Stanley Park in 1986, presumably for Expo '86. We should totally bring that back.