Pilots say FAA rule will drastically limit balloon flights in Albuquerque

“As we don’t have a steering wheel, sometimes the winds we need are a bit stronger than that. And if we step into that area, we can be violated, for breaking, you know, breaking the rules, which could mean suspension or revocation of our license,” Appelman said.

Appelman says the rules have been on the books since 2020, but weren’t enforced until September 2021.

“This type of demand on the city of Albuquerque, in what I would consider arbitrary timing, raises a lot of questions,” he said.

The FAA granted a regulatory waiver during the 2021 Balloon Fiesta. Organizers confirmed Tuesday that they plan to seek another waiver for the upcoming 50th Anniversary Balloon Fiesta, but that process won’t begin until April.

Balloon Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity sent KOB 4 this statement regarding FAA regulations:

“The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is focused on creating a safe event for our pilots and guests. The best way to achieve this is to allow our balloon pilots to fly and land year-round on the along the Rio Grande Valley. Event management has raised concerns with the Albuquerque Air Traffic Control Center and Federal Aviation Administration. Balloon Fiesta’s concerns are rooted in providing a safe flight event. A “A very realistic and reasonable approach to this has already been implemented in Colorado Springs. The event is committed to addressing the issue through discussions with federal government officials.”

Appelman says other parts of the country are watching this situation closely – especially areas that are already hosting their own hot air balloon events.

“I’ve already been approached by two other cities saying if this goes away we’ll be happy to help host. Now it’s not like I’m making the decision for Balloon Fiesta, no way,” a- he said. “All I can say is a $200 million impact. There are many cities that would love to be able to support an event.”

Appelman says he has already been in touch with U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury about his concerns. His office sent us a KOB 4 statement on the situation:

“Every morning during the Balloon Fiesta, New Mexicans run outside to witness the incredible sight of hundreds of balloons of all shapes and sizes dotting our turquoise sky. The Balloon Fiesta and our balloon pilots who carry on this tradition throughout the year are part of Albuquerque’s DNA. As we speak, my office and I are working closely with our balloon pilots to keep our balloons in the air for years to come. I look forward to working with the Federal Aviation Administration to safeguard the absolutely vital economic and cultural institution that is our Balloon Fiesta and our ballooning community and I look forward to witnessing this year’s Mass Ascension.

Appelman says the modern ball was reinvented in Albuquerque nearly 50 years ago, and just wants to make sure the industry isn’t forced from its home.

The FAA shared the following statement with KOB 4:

FAA regulations allow operators to fly balloons that are not equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) if they remain outside certain airspaces, including the class of airspace around Albuquerque International Sunport. Applicants may request a waiver from the local FAA air traffic facility to operate in that airspace.”