Piloted Balloons

March 2023 Update
Balloon operators with a letter of agreement (LOA) to fly in Class C airspace without ADS-B installed can continue to fly while the FAA reviews the safety risk panel report. If an LOA is nearing expiration or an operator does not have one, please contact the closest air traffic control tower to renew or apply. 

What is a balloon?
A balloon is a lighter-than-air aircraft that is not engine driven, and that sustains flight through the use of either gas buoyancy or an airborne heater.

What regulations and policies pertain to balloons?

Can I use a gas medium other than helium to inflate my captive gas balloon envelope?
You may only use those gasses that are approved for use in your balloon.  Some balloons are approved for lifting gasses such as hydrogen or "city gas".  Review your operators manual and/or the balloon type certificate data sheet to determine the gasses approved for use in your balloon in the interest of aviation safety.

Am I required to have a compass in my balloon?
You are required to have a compass if the balloon design is of the captive gas type.

Am I required to equip with ADS-B Out?
You must be equipped with ADS-B Out in certain rule airspace. Balloons may conduct operations without ADS-B Out in the airspace within 30 NM of an airport listed in 14 CFR part 91 appendix D if the operations are conducted: (1) outside any Class B or Class C airspace area; and (2) below the altitude of the ceiling of a Class B or Class C airspace area designated for an airport or 10,000 feet MSL, whichever is lower.

Are there any special cases regarding ADS-B Out equipage requirements?
The FAA developed a Letter of Agreement (LOA) in which the FAA authorizes deviations from ADS-B Out equipage requirements for balloonists in Class C airspace. Each operator, whether a commercial business or individual pilot, will sign a LOA with the FAA to confirm they know the proper procedures in the Class C airspace that surrounds the areas. Alternatively, a representative of a balloon festival or association/society may enter into the agreement on behalf of its participants or members if certain conditions are met.

Where can I get more information about completing the LOA?

Contact the facility in the area where you will be operating. If you are not familiar with the process or need assistance, contact your Service Area Operations Support Group Point of Contact. 

Can I use another manufacturer's basket or burner on my hot air balloon?
You may use another manufacturer's basket or burner on your balloon if the basket or burner is FAA-approved for your balloon. This is normally accomplished by means of a Field Approval or Supplemental Type Certificate.

Does a balloon require a Flight Manual?
No. Flight manuals are only required for rotorcraft and airplanes that were not type certificated and had no flight time prior to March 1, 1979. (14 CFR Section 21.5). Flight Manual requirements are also addressed in the Type Certificate Data Sheet for balloons as well.

What if I have additional questions regarding balloons?
If you have additional questions regarding balloons, please contact the Policy and Innovation Division (AIR-600).

Balloon Regulations & Policies

Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations

  • Part 31, Airworthiness Standards: Manned Free Balloons
  • Part 43, Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance, Rebuilding, and Alteration
  • Part 91, General Operating and Flight Rules

Advisory Circulars (AC)

  • 20-41, Substitute Technical Standard Order (TSO) Aircraft Equipment
  • 20-45, Safetying of Turnbuckles on Civil Aircraft
  • 20-127, Use of Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Class H11 Bolts
  • 21-16, RTCA, Inc. Document RTCA/DO-160E, Environmental Conditions and Test Procedures for Airborne Equipment
  • 21-41, Replacing MIL-S-8879C With SAE AS8879
  • 43.13-1, [Large AC. This includes Change 1.] Acceptable Methods, Techniques, and Practices – Aircraft Inspection and Repair
  • Balloon Control Force Guidance (Small Airplane Directorate Memorandum, dated Dec 22, 1999)
  • Production Flight Test of Balloons (Small Airplane Directorate Memorandum, dated Feb 9, 2000)
Last updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2024