Mayor seeks balloon tracking device waiver - Albuquerque Journal

Mayor seeks balloon tracking device waiver

Balloons fly over Downtown Albuquerque Monday, Oct. 4. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Balloons fly over Downtown Albuquerque in October. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

In response to a new rule from the Federal Aviation Administration requiring aircraft, presumably including hot air balloons, to carry a new onboard tracking system, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has written to a local FAA official and requested a waiver.

The local FAA official, responding to Keller on Tuesday, said the agency has convened a work group to study the matter.

The tracking system, called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B, is designed to help aircraft in flight better see one another and so better keep those aircraft safely separated.

“While we all can appreciate this important goal, I want to raise a concern of the local hot air balloon operators in their ability to operate in Class C airspace,” which encompasses much of the sky over Albuquerque, Keller wrote in the letter released by his office Tuesday.

“The ballooning community here and the many visitors who enjoy ballooning in Albuquerque are adversely, and perhaps needlessly, affected by this regulation. … I request that a deviation for all balloons be granted and extended throughout the year to maintain Albuquerque’s historic balloon-friendly heritage.”

In his written response to Keller, also released by the Mayor’s Office Tuesday, Stephen Bond, air traffic manager at the Air Traffic Control facility in Albuquerque, said his agency “is intently offering suggestions, proposals and ideas to the work group in promotion of hot air ballooning activities.”

Further, Air Traffic Control management, he said, “understands the unique heritage of hot air ballooning in and around the city of Albuquerque,” and understands the importance of the situation.

Nowhere in the letter did Bond address why hot air balloons even need to have an ADS-B device, something local balloonists contend is not necessary, nor did Bond comment on Keller’s observation that, “for over 50 years, the Balloon Fiesta has operated in Class C airspace without creating hazards to commercial aircraft.”

The new rule does not seem to have been written with balloons in mind, Sam Parks, operations manager for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta told the Journal on Monday.

According to the rule, the ADS-B device has to be integrated “into the permanent onboard electrical system of the aircraft” and hot air balloons do not have a permanent onboard electrical system, Parks said.

Neither Bond nor FAA public affairs spokesman Lynn Lunsford returned calls to the Journal on Monday or Tuesday; however, an email sent Tuesday afternoon from the FAA said, “Your media inquiry has been passed on to our team at the FAA press office.”

The FAA response was disappointing, though not surprising, said Scott Appelman, president of Albuquerque-based Rainbow Ryders, the largest commercial ballooning operation in the country.

“We’re not aware of any other city where this new rule is being enforced for hot air ballooning,” he said. “This is why I brought it to public awareness – we’re getting no response and time is ticking away.”

Currently, balloonists can launch from the West Mesa and Rio Rancho, as long as they do not drift east over the major portion of the city, which had been the primary flying area for balloonists during Balloon Fiesta, as well as year round.

By banning balloonists from this area, Appelman said, it prevents pilots from staying informed about such changes as the addition or subtraction of landing areas, new construction, the location of recently installed power lines and other obstacles.

“It’s a matter of safety,” he said, “we’re supposed to practice where we play.”

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