Tethered balloon hazard needs further study

February 10, 2011

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.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.