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Balloon Federation of America
PO Box 400
Indianola, Iowa
 
July 26, 2022

 

 

BVLOS ARC Verbal Comments from BFA for publication

 

The Balloon Federation of America is a member of the National Aeronautics Association (NAA), formed more than 40 years ago to represent lighter than air pilots, owners and enthusiasts in the growth and safety of the many aspects of lighter than air flight. The Federation represents all lighter than air activities from sport, competition, commercial rides, corporate advertising and training, for the more than 5000 balloonists in the U.S, that are carrying well in excess of 600,000 passengers each year. Approximately 500,000 of these are paying passengers that expect safety to be the first-priority.

The BFA supports the integration of UAVs into the National Airspace System and appreciates the work being done by the ARC in support of that effort. However, that support and the acceptance of this new technology into the airspace should not be accompanied by an attempt to change the long-standing rule regarding the right of way of lighter than air aircraft.   We wish to align ourselves with previous comments made by other aviation organizations such as AOPA, EAA, and HAI in opposition to this rule change.  Integrating UAVs into the current NAS structure using this rule change, flies in the face of long-established safety precedent. 

I would like to start by expressing my concern that it is unthinkable that an association such as the BFA would be completely unaware of this ARC until the final report was issued. The lighter-than-air community is one of the most vulnerable forms of aviation to collision with a UAV, and our exclusion from involvement in this ARC is unfortunate. Balloons are defenseless against any other form of powered aviation including UAVs. Our pilots, owners and passengers will be put in harm’s way every time a takeoff or landing is attempted anywhere near the operational areas for these UAVs. Lighter than air aircraft, in compliance with FAR 91.119 commonly operate in sparsely populated areas below 500 feet, placing us right in the middle of your intended operational altitudes. Your final report assesses that the airspace below 400 ft AGL is not populated with many aviation activities, thus giving UAV’s the right of way should not decrease safety. This assessment is far from the truth and aviation activities below 400 ft AGL have been seriously underestimated by your committee. Balloons are not required to launch from or land at an airport therefore, ballooning activity can take place in most parts of the National Airspace System without violating FAR 91.119.

Further, you have said that the provisions of see and avoid should be the rule to avoid an oncoming UAV. This is far from reality for a balloon pilot to spot a UAV on a collision course with their aircraft. It takes a full 8 to 10 seconds for any size lighter than air aircraft to begin to move vertically to remove itself from the path of a blind UAV. A lighter than air pilot will be more likely to hear the drone first and then be required to look in a 360-degree circle to try to locate the oncoming UAV. UAVs are quite to the point that they may be on top of a balloon before they are heard by the pilot. If on a collision course with the balloon, it will be impossible to identify the hazard and then act fast enough to avoid the collision. Please remember that a typical balloon is seven stories tall, and a passenger balloon can be ten stories tall and almost as wide.  This is a huge ‘footprint’ to protect by evasive vertical maneuvering – especially considering the total mass of these aircraft is in the range of three to twelve tons.

FAR 91.225 makes no provision for any aircraft, including lighter than air products, not certified with an electrical system, to be equipped with ADS-B or even TABS, so equipage is out of the question at this time. That technology exists only in the experimental phase of testing, is not practical for full time operation and far exceeds the financial expectations for this type of aircraft.

It should be incumbent on the UAV industry to provide the capability for these UAVs to sense and/or see objects in their path and to avoid them autonomously. The cost would be minimal to such operators as Amazon, Walmart, or any other operator that has a stake in this ARC. The cost of causing a fatal accident while operating these UAVs in the blind will far exceed the cost to research and equip UAVs with this technology prior to starting service. 

As a ballooning community, we are willing to work with the FAA and with the UAV industry to find ways to compatibly exist within the NAS system. Changing a time-tested rule of right of way is not the answer to the problem of integration of this new technology into the NAS.

The BFA stands ready to work with the UAV industry to retain the safe operation of both lighter than air and UAVs in the airspace we both currently occupy.

 

Sincerely,

Cannon Pat

 

 

 

 

 

Pat Cannon, BFA President

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Balloon Federation of America
PO Box 400
Indianola, Iowa
 

https://www.bfa.net 

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