After half a year of discussions about hot air balloons over Vilnius, a compromise between balloon enthusiasts and air traffic controllers has been reached. Balloons will be able to fly, albeit under stricter rules that come into effect on June 1. The new rules will be in place for a month and a half and will be reviewed in July to see how well they work.
Hot air balloons have been a familiar sight over Vilnius and other cities in Lithuania, a popular divertissement with locals and tourists alike. However, controllers were complaining that balloons were interfering with air traffic.
Last year, the national air controller Oro Navigacija (Air Navigation) floated plans to completely ban flights over Vilnius. These plans have not become a reality.
Still, after lengthy negotiations, balloon pilots and controllers reached a deal that entails stricter regulations on altitudes, directions, and flying times of hot air balloons.
altogether did not become a reality. From tomorrow, the rules on altitude, directions and all sorts of prohibitions are getting stricter, especially where planes land.
“For half a year we really worked on it, we put together changes in various procedures, we assessed what is critical for safety, where certain things can be done, and came up with the rules,” said Saulius Batavičius, head of Oro Navigacija, presenting the new procedures on Wednesday.
The reason for the more stringent procedures is flight safety, stressed Transport Minister Marius Skuodis, as Vilnius Airport is planning more flights and controllers are preparing for growing drone traffic.
“It is important to regulate the lower airspace so that drones can fly, because right now you can’t take a drone anywhere, and we are already talking about cargo drones,” said Skuodis. “Not to mention air taxis, which we will see in Europe soon enough, at least during the Paris Olympics.”
The new rules will be tested until mid-July and then reviewed.
According to Giedrius Leškevičius, a balloon pilot, hot air balloons often go where the wind takes them and that is difficult to control. For example, the low airspace wind may not meet the flight requirements, while the situation would be different above. Or vice versa.
“And how will it be treated then? Who committed the infringement?” he asks.
In Leškevičius estimation, the stricter rules will nevertheless reduce the number of hot air balloons over Vilnius.
“We don’t have the freedoms we used to have. My optimistic estimate is that rides will be cut by only 50 percent, while the pessimistic estimate is 70 percent or more,” he says.
Balloon flights will be completely banned before and during the NATO summit in Vilnius on July 11–12.