47th Albuquerque balloon fiesta ready for weekend launch
By RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The 47th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is set to start Saturday and will feature nearly 600 hot air balloons.
The event is expected to draw about 1 million visitors to central New Mexico as Albuquerque continues to struggle with crime. According to FBI statistics released last month, the Albuquerque metro area had the highest per capita robbery rate in the country in 2017.
Here are key things to know about the event:
Of the 600 or so hot air balloons, about 100 will be special shapes, including balloons that look like a pirate, the impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, a smiling emoji, Buster the Bulldogg and a rat eating cheese.
This year’s balloon festival theme is “Carry Me Away.” The fiesta’s morning mass ascensions launch this weekend, Wednesday and during the weekend of Oct. 13-14.
Because pilots must land near the Albuquerque metro area — including on Native American tribal lands — the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce has launched a program called “X Marks the Spot.” The program asked area residents to lay a white sheet or a white “X” on their property to indicate to pilots that they are free to land their balloons at the locations.
On Wednesday, the event features its “Flight of the Nations” mass ascension, showcasing all countries represented at Balloon Fiesta.
The America’s Challenge, a race where pilots try to fly the greatest distance from Albuquerque, will not be held in 2018, because the distance gas ballooning world championships, Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett in Switzerland takes place shortly before the Balloon Fiesta. Officials say that makes it impossible for teams to compete in both races. The event is scheduled to return to Albuquerque in 2019.
The fiesta, however, will have a number of other competitions including the “Fly In Task” contest when pilots try to land on targets set by judges.
Crime has long been a concern for events in Albuquerque that attract tourists and recent statistics show robberies and auto thefts remain problems.
The FBI Uniform Crime Report said last month that Albuquerque reported about 2,900 robberies last year. That was the most robberies the city has seen in nearly 30 years of record keeping, according to an analysis by KOAT-TV in Albuquerque.
Auto theft also remains a problem in New Mexico’s largest city. FBI stats said the Albuquerque metro area ranked second nationwide in auto theft per 100,000 residents.
The crime numbers come as city officials work to lure tourists back to Route 66 in the city’s Nob Hill neighborhood after the construction of a new bus system reduced the number of traffic lanes. The bus system is not yet running.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras