Drones banned from international balloon fiesta

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Hundreds of hot air balloons fill the sky just as the sun rises over the mountains bordering the city's eastern edge. In the opposite direction, the view is just as awesome, with the wave of colorful orbs and special shapes standing out against the backdrop of a cottonwood forest and the Rio Grande.

There might not be a more perfect event to document with a drone than the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Too bad. Don't even think about it.

Fiesta organizers on Thursday said no drones will be allowed within a four-mile radius of the launch field throughout the duration of the nine-day event. The entire area is covered by a temporary flight restriction approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Until the FAA develops firm regulations for the unmanned aircraft, fiesta organizers see all drones as a potential threat to the flight operations of the more than 550 pilots who are participating in this year's fiesta.

"It's a safety issue," said Don Edwards, the event director. "There are enough distractions in the air with 550 balloons around you without all of a sudden having to ask, 'What's that little thing buzzing around?' "

Drones are a relatively new issue for the fiesta. Last year, there were only a couple of requests to fly drones during the balloon launches. Those were politely turned down, but federal authorities ended up knocking on the door of one Albuquerque resident who flew a drone over the restricted airspace without permission.

This year, the fiesta received more requests, so organizers wanted to make the rules clear before Saturday's opening mass ascension.

The annual event attracts locals as well as tens of thousands of spectators from around the world.

Some pilots were pleased with Thursday's announcement. Others were unaware that it might even be an issue.

"There's going to be people who try to bend the rules, I'm sure," Edwards said. "We'll be watching."


Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

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