This story is a staff report from The Paper.

U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury led a letter with U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján requesting that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) immediately waive a rule that has resulted in grounding hot air balloon flights over the City of Albuquerque’s airspace. The lawmakers’ request follows the enforcement of the FAA’s rule requiring all aircraft to integrate tracking technology that cannot be installed in hot air balloons. 

The FAA rule effectively prevents between 150 and 200 daily balloon flights operated by Albuquerque’s thriving balloon industry, harming local businesses. Though Albuquerque’s annual Balloon Fiesta operated since 1972 established the city’s reputation as the balloon capital of the world, New Mexico’s hot air balloon industry launches thousands of flights each year beyond the two-week fiesta.

“Since the inception of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta nearly 50 years ago, balloon pilots have utilized Visual Flight Rules to keep themselves and their passengers safe,” the lawmakers wrote. “Using these rules, there has been no midair balloon-aircraft collisions in Albuquerque.” 

“This regulation comes at a grave cost to the City of Albuquerque, the international capital for hot air ballooning,” the lawmakers continued. “In addition to serving as a cultural touchstone for communities across Albuquerque, the hot air balloon industry generates millions of dollars for the City and boosts the economies of neighboring municipal and Tribal communities.” 

“This regulation comes at a grave cost to the City of Albuquerque, the international capital for hot air ballooning,” the lawmakers continued. “In addition to serving as a cultural touchstone for communities across Albuquerque, the hot air balloon industry generates millions of dollars for the City and boosts the economies of neighboring municipal and Tribal communities.