This story is a staff report from The Paper.

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On Wednesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that Albuquerque’s ballooning community will be able to take to the skies once more following a decision from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will permit hot air balloons to fly over Albuquerque airspace.

“The economic and cultural importance of New Mexico’s rightful reputation as the Ballooning Capital of the World cannot be overstated,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “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 hundreds of thousands of visitors to New Mexico and the Balloon Fiesta every year.”

“We commend the FAA for addressing the needs of the balloonist community in Albuquerque and beyond, enabling balloon pilots to operate in Albuquerque’s Class-C airspace,” New Mexico Tourism Department Secretary Jen Schroer said. “This decision will not only ensure that pilots are equipped to safely navigate the Albuquerque airspace for the International Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and other ballooning events, but also maintain New Mexico’s distinction as the premier destination for the venturesome traveler.”

“We recognize the important role that hot air ballooning plays in New Mexico’s culture,” FAA Regional Administrator Rob Lowe said. “The FAA has reached an agreement that enables them to continue flying safely in the region while we work on a long-term solution.”

The decision from the FAA comes after Gov. Lujan Grisham advocated on behalf of Albuquerque balloonists directly to the White House and federal transportation officials, emphasizing the impact of ballooning on local and state economies and New Mexico’s cultural identity, providing once-in-a-lifetime experiences to residents and visitors alike with a longstanding commitment to safety. In 2019, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta attracted nearly 900,000 attendees, 71 percent of whom were out-of-state visitors, and resulted in an estimated economic impact of $186.8 million. Albuquerque sees an estimated 40,000 balloon passengers each year, with over 125 balloon pilots and crews operating in the city. New Mexico is also home to the Red Rock Balloon Rally, Elephant Butte Balloon Regatta, Balloons over Angel Fire, Taos Mountain Balloon Rally, and the White Sands Balloon and Music Festival, all of which serve as important drivers of tourism and economic activity for local communities.

Under the amended policy, a temporary FAA rule will allow hot air balloons to fly over Albuquerque provided that operators sign a Letter of Agreement (LOA) with the agency certifying their agreement to proper operational procedures. The LOA will remain in effect through March 2023, during which time the FAA will convene a safety risk panel that includes community stakeholders to identify a long-term operational solution. A previous policy would have effectively blocked ballooning in Albuquerque’s Class-C airspace by requiring the addition of equipment incompatible with hot air balloons.

“This is a momentous decision for ballooning, not only in Albuquerque but across the nation,” Scott Appelman said, founder and president of Rainbow Ryders. “We’ve seen the community and elected officials of New Mexico stand with ballooning to take this challenge head-on, once again proving their title as The Capital of Hot Air Ballooning.”