FAA allows Fiesta balloons to fly over ABQ

FAA allows Fiesta balloons to fly over ABQ

The Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to allow hot air balloons to fly over the Albuquerque metro without a costly GPS device required on other aircraft.

Photo by Ryan Lowery / Chile Street

In September 2021, the FAA began enforcing a 2020 rule that requires all aircraft flying over Albuquerque to have onboard tracking technology installed in the on-board flight computer, something hot air balloons don’t have.

“We recognize the important role that hot air ballooning plays in New Mexico’s culture,” said FAA Regional Administrator Rob Lowe. “The FAA has reached an agreement that enables balloon pilots to continue flying safely in the region while we work on a long-term solution.”

The device is called Automatic Dependent Broadcast Surveillance, or ADS-B, and it is required to fly any aircraft above Class C airspace, like the Albuquerque metro.

Banning balloons over Albuquerque, known as the “Hot Air Ballooning Capital of the World,” posed a problem for the upcoming 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta scheduled for this October.

The FAA granted a waiver for the regulations during the 2021 Balloon Fiesta, and Fiesta organizers said they would again apply for a waiver this year, but the application period doesn’t open until next month. In February, Mayor Tim Keller wrote to the FAA and urged the agency to grant an exemption for balloonists in Albuquerque.

On Wednesday, city officials announced the FAA had drafted a “letter of agreement” with the city and state that allows balloonists to fly without installing the costly ADS-B device.

“When it comes to ballooning and Albuquerque’s traditions, we stand up for our city,” Mayor Keller said. “We’re grateful for the FAA’s work to find a path forward with us. Today, our pilots are cleared for takeoff and we’re ready to celebrate a half century of the Balloon Fiesta as planned.”

The agreement is effective through March 2023 and outlines safety requirements for navigating Albuquerque’s airspace. The FAA is also conducting a risk analysis study and continuing to collaborate with balloonists and city officials to reach a permanent solution, which is expected to happen by March of next year.

“I appreciate the FAA’s work to identify a solution, recognizing that Albuquerque’s ballooning community has operated with a dedication to safety for over fifty years,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. “New Mexico’s representatives from local, state, and federal government worked together to advocate for a solution – and the real winners are the thousands of visitors to New Mexico and the Balloon Fiesta every year.”

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