The hot air balloons that have become Lithuania’s signature will stay in Vilnius and Kaunas. The Ministry of Transport and Communications, AB Oro Navigacija, the Lithuanian Ballooning Federation and other interested parties have managed to find a compromise on ensuring flight safety without prohibiting hot air balloon flights in cities.
“There are very few cities in Europe where hot air balloon flights are allowed – for us, this is a signature part of tourism not only for Vilnius, but for all of Lithuania. I’m delighted that after detailed discussions, the well-meaning efforts of all the interested parties allowed us to find a way to properly regulate the airspace while ensuring flight safety and keeping hot air balloon flights going in the capital and Kaunas,” says Minister of Transport and Communications Marius Skuodis.
The procedure for conducting hot air balloon flights establishes procedures related to the safe provision of air traffic services. These procedures must be followed when conducting hot air balloon flights in the area around the Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga airports, where planes take off and land. As previously, hot air balloon flights will not be allowed in the air traffic control area of the Šiauliai airport.
According to the new procedure, group hot air balloon flights will continue to be possible, and the size of the group permitted will depend on the planned flight path. If hot air balloon flights are conducted without crossing the airstrip, there can be up to 14 balloons in the group; if the airstrip will be crossed, then no more than seven balloons will be permitted. Each group of hot air balloons will have to designate a group leader. All of the hot air balloons will be required to have transponders so that air traffic controllers can see their flight path and speed in detail.
Vilnius and Kaunas will have designated airfields for hot air balloons to take off, as well as specific requirements for flights from them. There will be seven airfields in Vilnius (Valakampiai, White Bridge, Žvėrynas, Vingio Park, Litexpo, Burbiškės, Belmontas) and three in Kaunas (Confluence Park, Neris Riverside Park, Pažaislis Monastery). The hot air balloons will cross airstrips at a safe distance from above, so as not to disrupt aircraft traffic.
The need to update the procedure for hot air balloon flights arose due to the increase in aeroplane flights at the airports in Vilnius and Kaunas and the need to ensure that hot air balloons over these cities do not pose a danger to aeroplanes taking off from and landing at these airports, as well as to ensure that hot air balloon passengers are safe.
Inga Romanovskienė, director of Go Vilnius, the tourism and business development agency of the City of Vilnius, says that hot air balloons, which are often called the symbol of Vilnius, are not only a special form of entertainment for Vilnius residents and tourists, but also a message that helps demonstrate the uniqueness of Vilnius and present the capital abroad.
After AB Oro Navigacija prepared a procedure for hot air balloon flights in August 2022 that would have severely limited hot air balloon flights, especially over Vilnius, discussions arose about the need to find a compromise so that it would be possible to leave more opportunities for balloon flights in cities without compromising flight safety.
Compromise provisions were established in the new procedure after the Ministry of Transport and Communications involved all interested parties in the decision: AB Oro Navigacija, the Lithuanian Transport Safety Administration, the Transport Competence Agency, Lithuanian Airports, Aero Club Lithuania, the Lithuanian Ballooning Federation, and Go Vilnius, the tourism and business development agency of the City of Vilnius.