Balloonists should pay up for unscheduled free landings
By Peter Bullen
WILTSHIRE farmer Tom Charnock is launching a one-man campaign against hot air balloons making unscheduled landings on farms.
As a start, he has written to the British Balloon and Airship Club asking it to advise its members not to land on his arable farm at Stanton Fitzwarren near Swindon. Over the years he has become incensed by the attitude of the balloonists.
They land without permission or warning, he says. They have to be forced to identify themselves (the balloons identifying number is often obscured when deflated and packed). Worst of all they expect to pay nothing to the farmers on whose fields they land.
Pilots of fixed wing aircraft always have to pay landing fees, says Mr Charnock. He knows from his own experience as a qualified light aircraft pilot.
As many balloons are now used by commercial concerns to carry fare-paying passengers, there is no excuse for them not to pay a landing fee. Mr Charnock, who has had as many as 10 or 20 balloons land on his farm in one day, sent off his angry letter to the BBAC after an incident a few days ago.
Unheralded, a large commercial balloon landed on one of his fields. There was a queue of cars in the road waiting to pick up the passengers and the balloons back-up car and trailer was driven across his fields to pick up the balloon.
It took five to 10 minutes of increasingly heated argument before the pilot would agree even to hand over his name and address.
This contrasts with a glider pilot who had to make an emergency landing in a newly-sown field. He walked two miles to find Mr Charnock. He was profuse in his apologies and in his offers (not accepted) to pay for any damage.
Often balloon pilots airily mention the BBACs arrangement with the NFU. That does not impress Mr Charnock who is not an NFU member.
He appreciates the value of the NFUs efforts to get balloonists to keep to an agreed code of conduct. This includes handing the farmer a landing ticket giving their name and address and that of their insurers and keeping a matching counterfoil. Hopefully, that will put pressure on "cowboy" balloonists to take out third party insurance, says Mr Charnock.
He would now like to see the NFU insisting that the BBAC makes an annual payment on behalf of all balloonists to an agreed charity. It would help to make up for the hundreds of free landings balloons made on farmland each year, says Mr Charnock. *