Federal balloon pilot crackdown may impact Balloon Fiesta

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — Tired of all the crashes into power lines, buildings and trees, the Federal Government may be getting ready to crack down on hot air ballooning and that has pilots worried about the future of their sport and the future of New Mexico’s big event – the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

In a recent memo released by the National Transportation Safety Board, regulators say crashes are becoming way too frequent. They’re now asking for tougher regulations for the sport which some fear could let some of the air out of Balloon Fiesta.

“As it was proposed, it would have potential for huge negative effect on the hot air ballooning industry across the board,” said Scott Appelman, a longtime balloon pilot.

Appelman has been ballooning for 31-years. He’s also the president of the “Rainbow Ryders” Hot Air Balloon Company and Chairman of the Balloon Federation of America (BFA.)

Appelman is among others in the BFA who are now opposing the NTSB’s preliminary call for more oversight into hot air ballooning for specific reasons.

The NTSB has asked the FAA for more oversight on balloon pilots which could likely mean things like more flight tests, inspections and licensing.

But Appelman is worried what’s being asked for is too vague. “Totally up for making the sport safer, regulating the heck out of it, i don’t know if that’s the answer,” said Appelman.

The Feds are specifically targeting pilots who fly passengers around, “They could come on in here and all of the sudden they got the exact same rules as we’re flying international flights in a Boeing 777,” said Appelman.

Appelman says he’s concerned that the Federal Government’s red tape could push some casual pilots out of flying with excessive training, tests and paperwork.

“I think the cost of implementing the programs, this would become over-burdensome to the recreational flyer,” said Appelman.

Appelman says that could also causes changes for pilots who attend the Albuquerque International Balloon, seeing excess regulation possibly bringing fewer pilots coming here to fly and fewer pilots giving balloon rides.

“The Balloon Fiesta people fly sponsors, so is that all of the sudden considered a ride? Therefore yes it’s absolutely going to effect the events across the country,” said Appelman.

While he says pilot training should be addressed, Appelman thinks the Feds could be on the verge of overreacting. “We’re all about trying to find the safest means possible, but it needs to be a melding of industry and regulatory authorities,” said Appelman.

The NTSB wrote its letter to the FAA about a month before last week’s deadly balloon crash in Richmond, VA. There’s no timetable for when the FAA will decide if ballooning needs more regulations.

The NTSB says almost 120 people have died in the U.S. from balloon crashes over the past 50 years. KRQE News 13’s archives show at least a dozen have happened in Albuquerque during Fiesta.

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