Balloonists Get Break On ADS-B


The FAA and the lighter-than-air industry have reached a longer-lasting agreement on ADS-B equipage and controlled airspace operations. Going forward, balloon operators who want to operate in Class C airspace can sign a letter of agreement with the FAA that sets out ground rules. The deal was reached over a year of discussions between balloon industry leaders and the agency. “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,” Scott Appelman, CEO of Rainbow Ryders Ballooning, told KOB TV in Albuquerque.

Appelman and other industry leaders have spent the last year meeting with authorities to gain the break. Last year, the agency was intent on enforcing the installation ADS-B-Out on balloons like any other aircraft. That threatened to shut down the balloon tourism industry in Albuquerque and ground the annual Balloon Fiesta, which attracts hundreds of balloons every October. Most of Albuquerque, where the tourism companies operate and the festival is held, is in the Class C. The FAA granted an exemption for a year while it figured out a more permanent solution.

The main issue was the $5,000 cost for the gear, but there were also technical issues with installation since the rules require the transponders to be hard-wired. Appelman said the balloonists were able to convince the agency that ADS-B in balloons was a solution in search of a problem. “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. He said the FAA is continuing to research the issue.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Why can’t the FAA just authorize balloons and gliders to use uAvionix’s SkyEcho product? This fully functional portable ADS-B transceiver is sold in the UK for ~$650. Problem solved!

    • Because the FAA has already made a rule, you see. And once there’s a rule, it’s one-size-fits-all. No matter how much a new situation doesn’t fit in the existing box, no matter how much the base assumptions or environment have changed, the FAA will say “there is the rule, use it”. Doing otherwise would require a government bureaucracy to admit it got something wrong.

      FAA wanted hard-wire installs for big, fast airplanes. They wrote all the rules around the big, fast airplanes. It quite possibly never occurred to them to consider how you would fit/operate ADS-B on other types of aircraft.

    • There may not have been a balloon mid-air yet, but that doesn’t mean the risk is zero.
      If I were a balloonist, I would want a battery powered transponder even if it wasn’t required
      If the Cub had had one, it might have saved four lives in Winter Haven…

      • Receive only is legal anywhere and is very beneficial. I had a receive only for a while and I felt naked it I accidentally took off without it.

  2. “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.
    I agree. Whoever does not see a ballon in the air has serious vision problems–in this case– this pilot should not be flying in first place.
    This weekend I flew from CHD to CGZ and I saw two ballons way back to the south of CGZ. Dude! that thing in itself is a giant at 10 miles away let alone at 2 or 1 mile away from any flight. Beautiful thing and its colors though. You can’t miss that! Maybe it would provoke fixed wing midair collision so beautiful it is and pilots keep looking at it and forget to fly aware of the surroundings. LOL
    Anyways, I don’t think ballons should have ADS-B.

    • One need only look at the photo of a large balloon launch shown with this article to realize that BECAUSE balloons operate in a single parcel of air—and have no means of propulsion—that they can’t “hit” another aircraft in that same parcel of air. I’ve participated in a number of mass balloon launches, and have yet to see balloons operating in the same parcel of air (I.e.—the same altitude) hit each other. As shown on the photo—more than 100 balloons often take off from a common departure point—and proceed at the same pace and interval—regardless of size.

      Now, vary the altitude, and wind direction and velocity changes (but then, if you change altitude, you are no longer a collision risk with balloons higher or lower than your own.

      Yet ANOTHER way to think of this—while aloft in a balloon, there IS NO RELATIVE WIND (breeze) in the basket, as you are moving as fast as the surrounding air. It’s one of the reasons that we can stay comfortable while flying in an open gondola on a frigid Minnesota winter day (that and a couple of million BTUs from that propane heater above your head!😄

  3. The FAA has always had the “ant and the sledgehammer “ mentality. Look at TSO requirements, an “ Experimental aircraft can use all the non TSO and non certified engine monitoring equipment, uncertified avionics, and fly IFR in the flight levels but a Day VFR only 7AC needs a field approval to put a GEM in a plane that only had an oil temperature gauge. Make sense out of that.

  4. I’m an FBO operator–I fly pistons, turboprops, jets, gliders, seaplanes, helicopters–and balloons. Several times a year, we invite balloonists to launch from our uncontrolled and somewhat rural airport–and the event is always a big deal in the local town. (Yes, the balloonists always carry radios.)

    THREE TIMES, I’ve had pilots of small airplanes come by the office to complain “THAT BALLOON ALMOST HIT ME! Try as I might to explain that a balloon is not capable of “hitting” a moving aircraft (as all movement is relative–and the aircraft has the speed and ability to avoid a balloon).

    Regulatory agencies usually have resident “experts” on any proposed regulation–WHO at the FAA is the “expert” on THIS latest example of regulatory lunacy? “NON COMPOS MENTIS!”

    • At least 3 pilots don’t know / remember the rules of right-of-way. Helicopters yield to everything, balloons own the sky.

  5. The FAA wants hardwired ADS-B/out because they want a controller-readable “license plate” for everything in the air. I can accept an /out requirement for aircraft inside controlled airspace; they have a responsibility for the safety of everyone else. But I cannot accept the requirement that if you have ADS-B/out, it must be transmitting at all times in all airspace. That’s just overreaching federal hegemony.

    Would anyone accept such a requirement for their car in metropolitan areas? At least I can choose whether I (pay to) take toll-roads that read my license plate, or transit the same city less conveniently.

    And yeah, the FAA couldn’t care less about /in; that benefits only the pilot.