Hot air balloon pilots say they’re running out of safe landing zones
RANCHO PENASQUITOS, Calif. — Unusual hot air balloon landings are becoming a common sight across San Diego, and pilots say they could become a greater issue as more developments go up and the county increases regulations.
Three unplanned landings happened just this week: two in Rancho Santa Fe and one when the pilot touched down between two freeways. No one was hurt in any of these incidents.
“It wasn’t windy. It’s just, the winds took us in a direction that wasn’t anticipated,” said hot air balloon pilot Phil Brandt of Magical Balloon Adventures.
Brandt was forced Sunday to land in between Highway 56 and Interstate 5. He said what many call an “emergency landing” is just Mother Nature blowing them off course.
“Balloons don’t always land where we expect them to but when that happens, that doesn’t mean anything is going wrong. There was nothing wrong with the equipment, with myself. There was no emergency whatsoever,” he added.
The problem? Like all other balloon pilots in the area, Brandt is running out of safe landing zones. In North County, they’re down to just five fields as developers move in and cities and counties continue to regulate land use.
“The numbers are decreasing on a weekly basis. We’re getting fewer and fewer places that we consider normal [landings],” Brandt said.
The FAA regulates these companies, conducting both random and announced surveillance.
“Balloon operators are subject to the same regulations as other types of operators. However, balloons can be more challenging to control than airplanes or helicopters because they don’t have engines,” said Ian Gregor of the FAA.