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Landowner Relations

Landings present a completely different set of challenges to the balloon pilot than to the operator of a heavier-than-air craft. A "heavy" pilot can assume (or get via radio) permission to land at an airport. Balloons can't even get to the airport, and can't ever take for granted that a landowner will be present when it's time to end the flight. Balloonists try to get clearance to use someone's property for landing, either before the launch (by contacting all your local landowners) or by requesting permission on approach. The on-approach request is a lot easier if the chase crew has kept up with the flight. They can seek out the landowner, and radio permission or lack of it to the pilot. The crew can also let the pilot know of any potential problems concerning that site, such as lack of access to the field for the retrieve vehicle, hidden powerlines, crops, or skittish livestock. Every landing without permission is a trespass, and, if the landowner has specifically requested balloons not use his property, that land is off limits, or a "red zone." In some areas, community or farmer groups have already enacted legislation to prohibit ballooning. In England, many farmers even demand landing fees.

For these reasons, balloonists make landowner relations a critical part of their flight training and operations. Here are some of the challenges you might encounter, and how to meet them.

Crops: Learn to identify what grows in your area, and what its growth cycles are. Then avoid those fields during times when you might do damage. For example, it's a bad idea to land in a field of tall, beautiful hay. But many farmers don't mind if you use that same field right after the hay has been cut.

Livestock: Many animals are frightened by the noise of the burner or the sight of the balloon. Horses can be especially skittish, and are in danger of breaking their legs as they frantically try to escape through fences. Cows can lose a day's milk production if they stampede. Turkeys will pile themselves up in one corner of a pen and suffocate. Dogs bark and wake up the neighborhood long before most people want to become conscious. The correct procedure when flying over livestock is to stay high, the higher the better, and not to land anywhere nearby.

Unknowledgeable neighbors: Many people, when they first see a balloon land, (off an airport, with a lot of fire) assume that it's a crash, or, at the very least, that the pilot is in trouble. Talk to them, quickly, before they call the rescue squad. Make sure your crew knows how to talk to spectators-about how balloons work, about the importance of not driving onto someone else's land to see the balloon, and about respecting neighbors' property. Also, it's a good idea to talk to the law enforcement and emergency professionals in your area on a regular basis, making sure they know what you're up to and what to do should there be a real emergency.

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