The City of Albuquerque may soon be looking at ways to help hot air balloonists find better places to land during Fiesta.
While the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s popularity continues, pilots have been saying for years that they’re running out of safe places to land.
Albuquerque City Councilor Don Harris his now proposing the creation of a city task force to look at the balloon landing issue and see if anything can be done to help it.
“The landing sites have really diminished as a result of development,” said Scott Appelman, President and CEO of the Rainbow Ryders balloon flights business.
A pilot himself, Appelman has flown over Albuquerque for the last 35 years and seen the city change. Sometimes, pilots have to land where they wish they wouldn’t.
The issue has only continued to grow as Albuquerque has developed, while Fiesta remains an enormous event with more than 500 pilots flying.
“(Albuquerque’s) a major metropolitan area and landing an aircraft without a steering wheel can be a little bit of a challenge at times,” said Appelman.
That’s why Appelman says he’s supporting a push the city’s considering, lead by Councilor Don Harris.
He’s proposed a new resolution to create a task force that would study preserving open land for balloon landings during Fiesta.
Several years ago, the development of a proposed Walmart store was fought off along Osuna Road, west of Jefferson Street.
The city ended up purchasing the property and building Vista del Norte Park. The 22-acre grassy field is now used as a prime Fiesta landing zone.
Councilor Harris’ resolution suggests a roughly 20 person task force be convened to see, in part, if any other vacant properties around Albuquerque need to be saved.
Harris is also asking for the proposed task force to see if incentives can be given out to private landowners to agree to keep their properties open for balloon landings.
“I know that the balloon community would be very supportive of it because it has become challenging,” said Appelman.
While the proposed task force would still need Albuquerque City Council’s approval before it got started, Balloon Fiesta organizers say the effort is appreciated, especially in that the work is starting months before the next event.
“We would obviously really be encouraged if more Vista del Norte-type of landing experiences developed, but we also know that those types of discussions are relatively out of our control,” said Tom Garrity, spokesman for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
The Vista del Norte park that the city created has been a big success for balloonists. It’s estimated that about 75 percent of flights taking off from Balloon Fiesta Park end up having an opportunity to land in Vista del Norte’s open field.