“People have always seen balloons flying over Albuquerque and downtown, and those days are over with this new settlement,” Conrad said.
Appelman’s company did $10 million in revenue in three states last year, employs 80 people and is the largest such operation in the United States. He said Rainbow Ryders typically offers about 25,000 rides a year in Albuquerque, with the majority of passengers being tourists.
Appelman emailed the two U.S. senators from New Mexico and asked for help from local and state officials, but so far there are no solutions.
“If we don’t fix that, I could see us having to consider, quite frankly, laying people off,” he said.
Appelman said he hasn’t seen the new FAA rule enforced in other states where he operates, and in Colorado Springs in particular, air traffic control operators and the local hot air balloon community have worked out conditions for the continuation of their operations in the airspace concerned.
The federal rule requiring “automatic-broadcast dependent surveillance” equipment inside certain airspaces went into effect in 2020. Appelman said it wasn’t actively enforced until September 2021.
Surveillance technology is different from transponders that balloonists can temporarily install so they can be seen on radar by air traffic control. According to the rule, it must be permanently integrated into an aircraft’s on-board electrical system.