New FAA regulation to not require GPS tracking device for hot air balloons

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Federal Aviation Administration announced it will not require an expensive piece of technology that would have impacted pilots at Balloon Fiesta.

Scott Appelman, president & CEO of Rainbow Ryders Ballooning Company, became one of the main connections between the ballooning community and the FAA. Through months of meetings they’ve come up with a solution for an issue that had many pilots deflated.  

“I’m thrilled to death that we actually got there, you know, trying to work with government at the FAA. Those are, those are big mountains for individuals and a small industry to be effective with,” said Appelman. 

Appelman and several others have been working to change a set of controversial regulations put out by the FAA in recent years. 

The FAA was requiring balloons to have a special piece of GPS technology onboard while flying in Class C airspace. 

“The single largest challenge, especially to recreational ballooning, it and ballooning overall, is the cost of the equipment, when that comes in. That right now can run between three and $5,000 per balloon added cost,” Appelman said. 

Appelman says the FAA wasn’t clear on guidelines for balloonists to comply with the rule, and almost all of Albuquerque is in Class C airspace. 

“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,” said Appelman. 

But now their balloons are flying a little higher after a new decision from the FAA.  

“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,” said Appelman. 

Balloonists can fly with a letter of agreement in Class C airspace in the meantime.

 “It’s great having an understanding of the expectation, the rules, and also all the new relationships that we’ve developed with air traffic control, as well as the FAA,” said Appelman. 

Appelman says now pilots can fly with a letter of agreement in Class C airspace. He says the FAA is continuing research on this topic in the meantime though.