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FAA rule poses threat to hot air balloon tourism in New Mexico

skeeze via pixabay
Creative Commons

Albuquerque, New Mexico is known worldwide for its balloon fiesta, but recently enforced Federal Aviation Administration rule is restricting where balloons can fly.

Now flying over the majority of the city requires a special transmitter that Scott Appelman of Rainbow Ryders, a large hot air balloon business, said hasn't been approved yet. To avoid this, he's canceled flights where the wind may blow the flights into the restricted air space and is launching outside the city.

President's Day marked the unofficial start of hot air balloon season, and officials and pilots say the new rule may hurt tourism, if they can’t fly by iconic river and mountain views.

Over the last six months he said he’s been reaching out to the FAA and local government officials to find a solution that allows pilots to fly over the Rio Grande and Sandia Mountains.

“The balloon ride in the Rio Grande Valley is far different than that of a balloon ride out on the mesa, and we want to make sure that we can give them the pictures they’ve been seeing for the last 49 years," Appelman said.

In 2019, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta attracted an estimated 866,414 visitors — about 43% were from New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, and it brought in about $186.8 million to the Albuquerque metro area, according to a 2019 economic impact report by the fiesta.

“The impact is large. It could literally be terminal to hot air ballooning over the City of Albuquerque," Appelman said.

Balloon fiesta officials will be requesting a waiver in April for the fall event, just as they did in 2021.

If the rule stays, Appelman said his company may lose up to $1 million and it could significantly alter the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

He said he has operations in Colorado Springs and Phoenix, but hasn’t come up against the same enforcement or lack of compromise as he has in Albuquerque these last six months.