February 10, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
AOPA is requesting that the FAA evaluate hazards to visual flight operations and solicit input from the public during its analysis of the aeronautical impact of a tethered balloon proposed by a defense contractor for installation at Camp Verde, Ariz.
The contractor, Stara Technologies, has asked to establish the helium-filled balloon—about the size of a tractor-trailer—aloft at 2,500 feet above ground level, as a platform for advanced camera technology. Two private general aviation airports are located within a few miles of the community of Camp Verde.
Tethered balloons are covered by regulations that do not subject them to the obstruction evaluation process. But a balloon that would remain aloft 24 hours a day, seven days a week for five years “is not a temporary situation” and should not be granted the broad waivers sought, wrote Tom Kramer, AOPA manager of air traffic services, in a Feb. 8 letter to the FAA.
Although the FAA has confirmed that it plans to evaluate the impact of the tethered balloon on instrument flight operations, “there is no opportunity for public input from the local flying community which will be impacted by this obstruction,” he said.
“An object that reaches a height of 2,500 feet agl is a potential obstruction to air traffic whether it is a tethered balloon, a radio tower, or a skyscraper,” he wrote, citing as examples of the potential hazard two fatal accidents that occurred under visual conditions in Fullerton, Calif., when aircraft flying in the traffic pattern struck a broadcast tower.
Kramer urged the FAA to withhold any approvals of the balloon until the requested study could be conducted, as the FAA has done in other tethered-balloon cases, “and public input is solicited and incorporated into the evaluation process.”
The sponsor of a bill to expand the number of pilots eligible to fly with a driver’s license medical is asking colleagues for their support.
AOPA members are being encouraged to contact their representatives in support of a bill that would require the FAA to go through the rulemaking process.
Flight testing of a factory version of the Quicksilver Sport 2S, the first of two models with factory-built versions planned, is complete.
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.