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50th Balloon Fiesta Saved: Reprieve from FAA Rule Announced

Letter of agreement will allow ballooning to continue as usual in ABQ

March 16, 2022

After active conversations with the City, the ballooning community, and state and federal leaders, the FAA has developed a letter of agreement that will allow balloonists to deviate from the rule that would require hot air balloons to have costly ADS-B devices on-board. The requirement would have prevented many pilots from flying, causing major disruptions the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and ballooning community.   

“When it comes to ballooning and Albuquerque’s traditions, we stand up for our city,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “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.”

On February 14, Mayor Keller sent a letter to the FAA urging them to grant an exemption for balloonists in Albuquerque, noting the city’s unique geography and ballooning culture. The City was joined by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico’s federal delegation, and the ballooning community in seeking a resolution. Just over a month later, a short-term solution is here and a long-term fix on the way.

Balloonists can sign onto the letter of agreement, which will be in effect until March 2023. The letter outlines safety requirements for navigating Albuquerque’s airspace, the majority of which are already best practices for most balloonists. The FAA is conducting a risk analysis study and continuing to collaborate with stakeholders to reach a permanent solution by next March.

“The economic and cultural importance of New Mexico’s rightful reputation as the Ballooning Capital of the World cannot be overstated,” said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. “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. 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.”

“The unique Albuquerque wind patterns have made hot air ballooning iconic and essential to the industry and our tourism economy. This fight was critical to reopen the airspace over Albuquerque. I was proud to work with our delegation to win that fight,” said Senator Martin Heinrich.

“Hot air balloons are an important part of New Mexico’s culture and economy, as seen in the annual Balloon Fiesta” said Senator Ben Ray Luján. “I’m pleased that this industry will continue bringing people together in New Mexico. It is vital that the FAA provides clarity to hot air balloon professionals and enthusiasts, as their community makes significant contributions to our state’s economy.”

“This is huge for New Mexico. Albuquerque is the ballooning capital of the world. Balloon Fiesta and year-round ballooning are a vital part of Albuquerque’s cultural fabric and economy,” said Rep. Melanie Stansbury. “Upon hearing that a new FAA rule could threaten this iconic industry, we have been working to resolve this issue. I am grateful to the FAA for working to find a meaningful solution and to the ballooning community who brought it to our attention— and who every day keeps the magic of ballooning in New Mexico alive!”

"We recognize the important role that hot air ballooning plays in New Mexico's culture. 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," said FAA Regional Administrator Rob Lowe.