ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Fall in Albuquerque just isn’t fall without the annual international hot air balloon fiesta, with its massive morning ascensions filling the skies with colorful balloons from around the globe as spectators watch from the packed launch field below.
Organizers had to cancel this year’s event due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Mayor Tim Keller wanted to keep the tradition alive for residents and he invited local pilots to lift off from city parks, golf courses and other open spaces during the week of Oct. 3-11.
Spectators aren't allowed at the launch sites due to restrictions mandated by the state’s public health order, but officials said balloons are still visible from around the city once they launch.
"We are the hot air balloon capitol of the world and we want to make sure that’s the case even during a pandemic," Keller said.
Balloons are widely spaced when preparing to launch, and balloon crews are limited to five people. Albuquerque police are also patroling to ensure traffic is smooth and that people are observing social distancing and mask requirements.
Despite the small launches in the city, the cancellation of this year’s fiesta is expected to have economic consequences.
In 2019, the event drew nearly 600 balloons from across the nation and 17 foreign countries, attracted more than 866,000 visitors over nine days and generated an estimated economic impact on the Albuquerque area of more than $186 million and $6.5 million in tax revenues for the state.