Hundreds of pilots miss the cut for 50th Balloon Fiesta

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 2022 marks 50 years for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and you better believe pilots and organizers are already busy planning for this year’s fiesta in October.

But hundreds of balloon pilots’ plans were deflated after their applications to fly at Balloon Fiesta were denied.

Pilot Geoff Turner, who owns the “Risen” balloon, says he thought he was a shoo-in when he submitted his application. His balloon, depicting a smiling Jesus, flew down from upstate New York to make its debut at Balloon Fiesta last year.

“Last year, we couldn’t have been more warmly received,” Turner said.

This year, however, it turns out there is no room in the inn — or on the field.

Turner’s company, Sky Sail, has flown at Balloon Fiesta three times with different balloons – but for the 50th anniversary, it was important to him to fly “Risen” for the 50th.

“So, when we received that letter or that email, I should say, we were dumbfounded and there were no explanations as to why except we didn’t make the cut,” Turner said.

He immediately appealed and was denied again, but was offered a spot on the waiting list.

According to Balloon Fiesta officials, more than 872 balloon pilots applied for the 650 open spots.

“So, we did not approve 222 applications,” said Tom Garrity, a Balloon Fiesta spokesperson.

When the Balloon Fiesta review board is combing over pilot and balloon applications, they are looking at a specific set of criteria.

“They look at the number of previous Balloon Fiestas that pilots have participated in, the number of times flying at the same elevation as Albuquerque, the number of times flying with more than 25 balloons, safety records are looked at and airworthiness are also looked at,” Garrity listed.

Turner argues he meets all those criteria, though – and he suspects he was denied for other reasons.

“I’m familiar with the practice of folks trying to push Christianity out of public square and hope this is not a result of that,” Turner said.

Tom Garrity denies that theory.

“This discussion of applications does not include balloon names or images,” Garrity explains, “and previously Balloon Fiesta has hosted a variety of balloons that are Christian themes – such as Risen, Archy, the Jesus Balloon, Christo and WWJD.”

During a normal year, Balloon Fiesta approves around 500 applications for pilots but since this year is the 50th anniversary and they are expecting a big turnout, they wanted a bigger show and decided to accept 150 more than usual.