Balloon Fiesta countdown: Final preparations underway, new attractions announced

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 648 pilots, 84 special shape balloons and thousands of visitors are ready for the 49th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Paul Smith, executive director of the Balloon Fiesta, said organizers prioritized safety as they made tough decisions about operations and procedures over the past two years. They moved all the indoor seating outside and shuffled the special shapes around the field in order to separate the crowds.

"We have to remember that there’s a lot of people that can’t be vaccinated because they’re too young, or that they have weakened immune systems, so we’re trying to protect them as well as everyone else in here," Smith said.

Officials also announced a few new attractions, including a Festival of Tiny Balloons that will feature 35 quarter-scale, remote-controlled balloons. Another new addition is that crews will build a balloon over the nine days of the fiesta inside the Pilots’ Pavilion at Balloon Fiesta Park.

The Balloon Fiesta kicks off Saturday, Oct. 2.