A balloon release occurs when a number of hydrogen or helium-filled balloons are allowed to float into the sky together, or in rapid succession. This may be done for fun, to create a photo opportunity to raise awareness of a cause or campaign, or as a competitive race. There is opposition to balloon releases because of the litter created and harm caused to wildlife and domestic animals; some have even contributed to the loss of human life.
A balloon race or balloon flight contest is a competition wherein the competitors attempt to send balloons as far as possible. Postcards are attached to the balloons which are then released. The flight of the balloons cannot be influenced by the competitors. Instead, success in the contest is dependent on the wind conditions and on the location in which the balloon lands. The contest depends on the goodwill of passers-by to find the balloons and return the postcards. A prize may be awarded to the person whose balloon travels the furthest.
A number of organisations (for example, in the United Kingdom, these include the Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Tidy Britain Group, the National Farmers Union, and the RSPB) oppose balloon releases, because of the visual impact of the fallen, deflated balloons, and the risk of harm to wildlife and domestic animals which they pose. For these reasons, balloon releases are prohibited in some jurisdictions.
A balloon release in 1986 by the charity United Way Services of Cleveland, in Ohio, USA, was an attempt to break the world record for the number of balloons in a single release. It contributed to the deaths of two sailors on Lake Erie (the wife on one victim sued the organisers, and settled out-of-court), resulted in injuries to horses, and caused traffic accidents. A runway at Burke Lakefront Airport had to be closed. The Guinness Book of Records no longer accepts balloon release records.
In 2011, a farmer from Stalisfield Green near Ashford in Kent, England, successfully claimed compensation, after one of his bullocks choked to death on the string of a balloon released by pupils at Lyndhurst Primary School in Camberwell, south-east London, over 50 miles away, as part of a Comic Relief event.
Within many countries written permission is often required from the relevant airspace regulatory authority. In the UK this would be the Civil Aviation Authority, for releases over a certain number of balloons.
- UK Rivers Network; Balloon releases: pollution factsheet
- RSPB Marine and coastal policy
- ""Mass balloon releases banned from Council owned land" Plymouth City Council, England, news release
- Kroll, John (2011-08-15). "Balloonfest 1986, the spectacle that became a debacle". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
- O'Malley, Michael (26 September 2011). "25 years ago, thousands watched a balloon launch on Public Square". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
- "Farmer wins compensation after Red Nose Day balloon kills cow - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. 2011-05-05. Retrieved 23 May 2012.