The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) yesterday said it was considering categorizing hot-air balloons as civilian aircraft, adding that it would hold a public hearing today on a proposed amendment to aviation regulations.
The amendment to legalize hot-air balloons was proposed after the Taitung County Government hosted the nation’s first hot-air balloon festival last year, and it became a tourist attraction in eastern Taiwan.
Currently, only airplanes and helicopters qualify as civilian aircraft.
CAA Director General Ying Chen-pong (尹承蓬) said nine aviation regulations would have to be amended before hot-air balloons could operate legally in Taiwan.
He said that the Taitung County Government has planned to host the balloon festival again in June this year, with 20 hot-air balloons from the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Lithuania, the UK, Switzerland and other countries participating.
Director of CAA’s flight standard division, Chang Ling-ti (張羚悌), said there were two types of hot-air balloon activities — free-flight balloons that drift through the air and those that are tethered to the ground.
He said that despite being a popular outdoor activity in other countries, the general public in Taiwan are not allowed to engage in hot-air ballooning because the nation lacks regulations to manage the activity.
He added that the Taitung County Government had to get special permission from the CAA to hold the event last year.
Chang said the decision to set strict regulations to manage hot-air balloons carrying people was made after an accident in New Zealand in January, in which 11 people were killed.
The CAA is scheduled to complete the regulations’ amendment before June, in time for the Taitung County Government to host the festival, he said.
In addition to hot-air balloons from abroad, Chang said the Taitung County Government also acquired its own two hot-air balloons.
The county has sponsored five people to be trained in the US as hot-air balloon pilots, he said.
Not only must the county government secure all the necessary certificates for the balloons, the pilots must each also have at least 35 hours flying time before they can be licensed to operate the commercial-use hot-air balloons, Chang said.
Chang said the festival’s organizer has applied for permission to fly the hot-air balloons at an altitude of 914m. Last year, hot-air balloons could only fly at an altitude of 609m and were restricted to fly within a radius of about 6km from Luye Township (鹿野) in Taitung.
Nonetheless, it allowed tourists in the balloons to get a bird’s eye view of the East River Valley, he said.
The ideal time to fly the hot-air balloons is within two hours after sunrise or two hours before sunset, Chang said.