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Wed, Apr 05, 2023

Albuquerque Balloons Obtain Letter of Agreement for GPS-Free Operation

FAA Agrees to Terms to Monitor & Evaluate Balloon Ops in Class C 

The FAA will ultimately not require GPS equipment for balloons operating at the Albuquerque, New Mexico Balloon Fiesta, putting to rest an issue that's been on the table for months.

The agreement reached between local balloon operators and the FAA has resulted in a letter of agreement to operate in Class C airspace, even when not equipped with GPS transponder tech. The demand has been a tough sell for local operators, who often balked at the big-ticket purchase of retrofitting each aircraft. 

One local, CEO Scott Appelman of the Rainbow Ryders Ballooning Company, took point on some of the legwork over the past few months. He spoke to reporters about the community's reception to the change, coming off quite optimistic about the agreement. 

“I’m thrilled to death that we actually got there, you know, trying to work with government at the FAA. The single largest challenge, especially to recreational ballooning, and ballooning overall, is the cost of the equipment. That right now can run between three and $5,000 per balloon” said Appelman. He said the issue really hit operators in the wallet. “The small interruption that we dealt with probably cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. Because we couldn’t fly in the area, because we didn’t want to break any rules."

Now, with the LoA in place, things are looking up.

“Essentially, what ended up coming up was, there’s no inherent risk, or there’s never been a reported, you know, midair collision with a balloon and a fixed-wing. So the group as a whole decided that they would continue to monitor the situation, collect data and see if there’s any reason for this to be addressed."

FMI: www.faa.gov

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