FAA disputes Balloon Race account of ending competition; GRBR responds

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RENO, NV (KOLO) UPDATE: After Reno Balloon Race officials claimed they were dropping the competition portion of the 2019 event because of new FAA safety restrictions, the FAA issued this response:

"We were surprised to see the letter attributing the cancellation of this year’s competition to FAA regulations and restrictions. Event organizers told us they decided to cancel this year’s event because they did not have enough support staff to ensure spectators were kept safely away from the target areas. The safety requirements for this year’s event would have been the same as they were for previous events."

Balloon Race officials responded:

"This statement ('Due to FAA safety regulations, The Great Reno Balloon Race’s Board of Directors has made the tough decision to suspend the competition portion of the 2019 event. The safety of our pilots, crew members, volunteers, and spectators is our number one priority. As the event has grown in size, it has limited the number of target locations that the FAA deems safe. We will be re-evaluating this in the coming years. For now, we look forward to having a safe and fun event in September.') was not intended to put ownership of the competition suspension on the FAA. The Great Reno Balloon Race’s Board of Directors decided to suspend the competition based on what they felt was the safest precautionary measure. This decision was made to ensure that our pilots, crew members, volunteers, and spectators remain in a safe environment.

"The competition portion of our programming included pilots bringing their balloon to a specific target location and dropping low to throw a bean bag as close to the mark as possible. To do this, the FAA requires a 400 foot secured perimeter around each target area.

"In 2018, we had one target location that we felt was secure at the time. This target was across from Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. After our evaluation this year, we felt that this target was putting our pilots and crew in an unsafe situation due to the close proximity of power lines and a busy roadway.

"Because of the number of spectators at the event, we can not control the 400-foot perimeter for a target on the field or outlining areas. In previous years, targets were able to be both on and off the field, but due to Reno’s growth this is not possible anymore.

"All of these factors have led to the Board’s decision to uphold our commitment to safety."

ORIGINAL STORY: Due to what the Great Reno Balloon Race Board says are Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations, the Race Board of Directors has decided to suspend the competition portion of the 2019 event.

The competition involves balloon pilots dropping beanbags from the air onto large targets on the ground.

A balloon race spokesperson says the Reno population and spectator attendance have increased over the years to the point that the event cannot safely maintain the FAA-required safety perimeters around targets on the field.

The remaining targets, those not on the established field at Rancho San Rafael Park and where crews could secure the perimeters, are also in the vicinity of power lines, which makes it unsafe for balloons.

The Balloon Race board released this statement:

"Due to FAA safety regulations, The Great Reno Balloon Race’s Board of Directors has made the tough decision to suspend the competition portion of the 2019 event. The safety of our pilots, crew members, volunteers, and spectators is our number one priority. As the event has grown in size, it has limited the number of target locations that the FAA deems safe. We will be re-evaluating this in the coming years. For now, we look forward to having a safe and fun event in September."

Board President Chris Dondero says, "In place of the competition for 2019, we will be hosting Pilot Games. With these games, pilots will have the opportunity to collect tokens throughout the event and redeem them for a prize. We will still be hosting a Thank You Fiesta barbeque on Sunday, where you will be able to redeem your tokens for your prize."

The dropping of the competition portion means there will not be a cash prize awarded this year. An event spokesperson says, "However, the competition is not the only reason pilots participate in the event. Pilots participate for a variety of reasons, including their love of flight, the community of friends they have built around the event, the event's track record for safety and to put on a spectacular show for the fans."

She says, "The FAA in recent years has taken a look at all air shows and air events across the country. The FAA has put out new rules/regulations in the operation of air show events. As an organization, GRBR was proactive in anticipating changes and did a safety evaluation of its competition. This evaluation is what drove the Board to look at potential safety precautionary areas for future targets and competitions."

The 2019 lineup will include new entertainment options, including the addition of Dawn Patrol on Friday. The event will be September 6-8.

The free event began in 1982 and attracts more than 100,000 spectators each year, according to estimates by organizers.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019



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