SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — If you live in the area of southeastern South Dakota, particularly in the Brandon/east Sioux Falls area, you’ve likely become accustomed to the sight of hot air balloons drifting overhead on summer afternoons. In 2023 however, those sightings have been rare.
KELOLAND News reached out to the Sioux Falls Ballooning Association. We got in touch with aeronaut John Parezo, pilot of the balloon Serenity IV.
“You are not wrong that there have been less balloons in the sky this summer. We are actively working to change that, however,” Parezo wrote in an email to KELOLAND.
According to Parezo, there are a couple of different reasons why balloons have been more scarce this year.
“Weather has been tough on us this summer — smoke issues early on, windy/stormy conditions in June and July, and now the high temperatures/heat indexes,” said Parezo. “We are hoping this fall will offer some better opportunities for good weather and flying.”
Weather isn’t the only issue though, recent changes to rules by the Federal Aviation Administration have also made an impact. You might not give it too much thought as you watch a balloon drift lazily across the sky, but the process, just as with any other type of aircraft, is highly regulated.
Parezo says that as of May 2023, commercial pilots (aeronauts included) must have a Class II Medical Certificate in order to take any passengers for hire or do any advertising flights.
“This took out several of the long-time pilots in the area from the business of giving rides. 605 Balloon Ride currently has two pilots (myself and one other) who are certified to offer rides,” said Parezo, adding that they’re currently training more pilots.
The third main issues is one that is more difficult to address and has led to a shift in the nature of ballooning in the Sioux Falls area.
The issue? Sioux Falls itself.
“As Sioux Falls grows, it becomes harder to get all the way across town in a typical flight, so we have started launching further out of town — often flying from the Brandon/Valley Springs area to avoid getting stuck over Sioux Falls looking for places to land,” Parezo explained.
Parezo says 605 Balloon Ride is working with the Sioux Falls Ballooning Association to continue offering some sort of exposure to balloons within the city, such as the Halloween Balloon Glow at Yankton Trails and the annual Parade of Lights downtown. “There has also been a little bit of discussion of bringing back or starting up a new balloon event in town in the next year or two,” he added.