Balloon operators may be fined for unapproved flights

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 - Page 3

Hot air balloon operators could be fined up to NT$3 million (US$100,000) if they offer to carry passengers without obtaining approval from the authorities first, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said yesterday.

The CAA said it had proposed amending the Civil Aviation Act (民航法) to regulate hot air balloons after the Taitung County Government started hosting the Taiwan Balloon Festival two years ago, adding the proposed amendment had nothing to do with the hot air balloon explosion in Egypt on Tuesday that killed 19 tourists.

The amendment was reviewed by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications yesterday morning, but still needs to be approved at the weekly ministerial meeting. Ministry officials said the new amendment is set to be implemented in the middle of next month.

Under the proposal, hot air balloons and helium-filled balloons, both of which are considered aircraft, would be regulated under the Civil Aviation Act.

These balloons can be divided further into two categories: free-flying balloons and those tethered to the ground.

Meanwhile, the balloons must pass an airworthiness certification and could only be flown in restricted areas. Any plans to fly balloons would have to be approved by the CAA.

“If the balloons are for personal use, then the passengers should not be charged,” said Lin Chun-liang (林俊良), deputy director of the CAA’s flight standard division.

“If they are owned by the local government, they can charge passengers under the Local Government Act, because that means that they must be responsible for the safety of the aircraft,” Lin added.

Lin said that only operators applying to offer balloon tours or training institutions for balloon pilots can charge customers. Pilots in these two categories must obtain a license for commercial-use balloons.

Operators must also secure the permission from the CAA to fly such balloons in restricted areas and the balloons must be also certifiably airworthy.

According to the CAA, the amendment would enable the authorities to penalize balloon operators that offer passenger services without approval, with the fine ranging from NT$600,000 to NT$3 million. Pilots could be fined between NT$60,000 and NT$300,000.