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.