The mayor requests a derogation from the balloon tracking device

Balloons fly over downtown Albuquerque in October. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

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

The local FAA official, responding to Keller on Tuesday, said the agency had convened a task force to study the matter.

The tracking system, called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B, is designed to help aircraft in flight better see each other and thus better separate those aircraft safely.

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

“The ballooning community here and the many visitors who enjoy ballooning in Albuquerque are negatively, and perhaps unnecessarily, affected by this regulation. … I request that a waiver for all balls be granted and extended throughout the year to maintain Albuquerque’s historical legacy in favor of balls.

In his written response to Keller, also released by the mayor’s office on Tuesday, Stephen Bond, director of air traffic at the air traffic control facility in Albuquerque, said his agency “carefully offers suggestions, proposals and ideas to the working group in promoting hot air balloon activities.

Additionally, the air traffic control branch, he said, “understands the unique heritage of ballooning in and around the city of Albuquerque,” and understands the significance of the situation.

Nowhere in the letter did Bond explain why hot air balloons even need an ADS-B device, which local balloonists argue is unnecessary, nor did Bond comment on the sighting of Keller that “For more than 50 years, the Balloon Fiesta has operated in Class C airspace without creating hazards to commercial aircraft.

The new rule doesn’t appear to have been written with balloons in mind, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta operations manager Sam Parks told the Journal Monday.

According to the rule, the ADS-B device must be integrated “into the aircraft’s permanent on-board electrical system” and hot air balloons do not have a permanent on-board electrical system, Parks said.

Neither Bond nor FAA public affairs spokeswoman Lynn Lunsford returned calls to the Journal on Monday or Tuesday; however, an email sent Tuesday afternoon by the FAA said, “Your media request has been forwarded to our team at the FAA Press Office.”

The FAA’s response was disappointing, but not surprising, said Scott Appelman, president of Albuquerque-based Rainbow Ryders, the nation’s largest commercial hot air balloon operation.

“We don’t know of any other city where this new rule is applied for hot air ballooning,” he said. “That’s why I brought it to the public – we’re getting no response and time is running out.”

Currently, balloonists can take off from West Mesa and Rio Rancho, as long as they don’t drift east over most of the city, which was the primary flying area for balloonists during the Balloon Fiesta, as well as all year round.

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

“It’s a safety issue,” he said, “we’re supposed to train where we play.”