Balloonist Charged After Being Ordered To Land In National Park (Corrected)


The pilot of a balloon carrying six passengers that landed in Grand Teton National Park in July is facing Class B misdemeanor charges under the Code of Federal Regulations.

As reported by a local Wyoming news source, Richard Glas told a court an unexpected wind shift took him into the Jackson Hole Airport airspace. Glas said an aircraft operations specialist directed him to land immediately, which resulted in a citation by federal park employees.

Federal law states “the landing of aircraft is prohibited on lands or waters administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or U.S. Forest Service without authorization from the respective agency.” Penalties can include up to six months in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.

In his filing, Glas claimed he was forced to land by external circumstances and the federal government has not proved that he was “using” or “operating” the balloon within the national park—noting that he had stopped using it when the balloon touched down.

The filing also argued that helicopters and aircraft have a greater ability to avoid unauthorized landings than hot air balloons that lack power and steering.

Glas is being tried by a judge alone and the outcome hasn’t been announced.

An earlier story said Glas was facing criminal charges but they are, in fact, Class B misdemeanor charges.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

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  1. The pilot-in-command of an aircraft is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to the operation of that aircraft. In an emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot-in-command may deviate from any rule in 14 CFR Part 91, Subpart A, General, and Subpart B, Flight Rules, to the extent required to meet that emergency. … A wind shift in a balloon can take you miles over unlandable territory all the while running low on fuel. The question will be if he had suitable areas to land beforehand but again, that a matter of weather conditions at those locations and if suitable with weather conditions at the time.

    • This appears to be one of those cases where he didn’t violate any FAA regulation, but he then subsequently came under the jurisdiction of the NPS. Unfortunately, 91.3(b) doesn’t say anything about being granted authority to deviate from rules outside of 14 CFR. It’s the same level of ridiculousness where that glider pilot from a few years ago was arrested for overflying a power plant even though no FAA regulation was broken.

  2. He would have been better off stating the “aircraft operations specialist” spoke to him as a voice in his head. You know, from the mushrooms.

  3. I am with the ATC and the NPS on this one. Both are responsible for their domains. True the balloon is subject to the environment, but the environment didn’t launch it. The fastest way to vacate controlled airspace in a balloon is to land.

  4. We can’t have a hot air balloon land from Jackson Hole airspace into the park, that’s CRIMINAL! A verdict of guilty is proper in this case. (says U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutor Amanda Hudson ).

    With an attitude like that from a judge, they probably will also cite him for littering and not paying the park entrance fee as well.

  5. More interesting than the NPS officer citing the pilot is the US Attorney’s office electing to actually prosecute the pilot and take the case to trial. Is there more context to this story, for example, a problem out in WY with unauthorized landings on federal property, making enforcing this particular statute a local priority with the US Atty’s office? All the filings are public and there is a public affairs officer at all the US Atty’s offices, so how about some more reporting AvWeb?

    • Maybe the balloon pilot was Trent Palmer or that idiot that jumped out of the perfectly good airplane just to score a video.

    • I read that in 2020 the balloon company had a serious accident involving three of their balloons. Some passengers were hurt. Of course lawsuits followed and eventually almost everyone agreed to settle the suits through mediation. Can you guess who insisted on going to court?

  6. When I told a hot air balloon ride, we landed by South Park Colorado. I was looking for Mr Garrison, Kenny, Kyle, Stan, and of course Cartman. )

  7. Flying balloons over Jackson Hole or a national park is real trouble. Send one over sensitive military bases… no problem.

  8. Most, in not all, of the preceding comms, are out of reason.
    A pilot of a balloon has the obligation, before the flight, to brief, with all adequate means that are at disposal for every one of us, pilots, the conditions of winds and their variables.
    When one balloon pilot wants to make a flight in a site that is not far away from a national park, he must, have to, be sure of what the briefings said and take the adequate actions not to be in proximity of those national parks, having in mind that, nonetheless of what are said by the forecasts, the winds often changes. The pilot in question used a empty defense and I hope the judge doesn’t be convinced with those inadequate argument.

    • There is no “reason” to give anything more than a stern warning.
      The park service and judge perusing criminal penalties is way out of line here.

  9. The author seems to be unclear. A Class B Misdemeanor is indeed a criminal offense.

    Most Americans have no idea that they at any given time are probably violating some Federal regulation as there are so many of them. I have lived in the DC area for many years and have long understood that government agencies have to justify their existence… and their budget every year. This is a typical example.

    Anyone with a smidgen of common sense would understand how really stupid prosecuting this guy is. But NPS wants to show that they are tough guys. There was probably some passenger in the balloon with a drone in his possession who they want to lock up as well. (Just kidding… But the NPS regs regarding drones is another overreach.)