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Rules deflate hot-air balloon firms

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Hopes of booming business for hot air balloon companies during the Olympics were deflated this week when security officials announced all such flights would be grounded during the entire 2002 Winter Games.

"I have had to pick up a second job to carry us through the Olympics," said High Adventures owner Daren Wilde. "We were looking at probably a 300 percent to 400 percent, possibly a 500 percent increase (in business during the Games)."

Instead, Wilde is working at an auto detailing shop to make up for some of the roughly $100,000 he estimates his company will lose because his balloons will be grounded.

Wilde's Park City company is one of many in Utah that will be impacted by a detailed set of flight restrictions meant to protect the 2002 Winter Games from any aerial attacks.

Thursday, the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command announced a 45-mile ring of restricted airspace around Salt Lake City from Feb. 8-24.

While commercial flights, public safety aircraft and general aviation flights that pass stringent security checks will be allowed inside the Olympic ring, the restrictions include a long list of aircraft, including hot air balloons and flight schools that will be completely grounded.

Security planners say the restrictions will protect the Games from terrorism by allowing them to keep track of every single aircraft in the sky during the Olympics.

"It's very difficult for us to be able to identify all these airplanes in the area and know which one is a threat and which one isn't a threat," said Robert Flowers, head of the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command.

Wilde and others say they understand the need for increased air security during the Games but say planners are taking the easy way out.

"What the bureaucrats back East haven't figured out is how deep it cuts," Wilde said. "It's affecting us right down to the shop we buy our doughnuts from."

Monte Bateman, Springville, says he's feeling the impact in a different way.

Since his wife died a few years ago, Bateman has raised his three children alone. He works one full-time job, one part-time job and is enrolled as a full-time student in Utah Valley State College's Aviation Science Program.

"There's a lot of pressure on me to try and get this done as soon as possible," Bateman said of his quest to finish flight school.

But with almost three weeks of no flight time, Bateman and other students basically will lose an entire semester. A student working toward a private pilot's license must log at least 40 flight hours during the semester.

"A lot of us are not going to be able to finish the flight portion of our class," Bateman said. Anyone who doesn't finish the flight portion during the semester is automatically given a C until the flying time is completed. Such a grade, in turn, could affect scholarships for the next semester, Bateman said.

Bateman also estimates the grounding of all flight schools in the Olympic zone will cost UVSC between $60,000 and $100,000, in addition to about $80,000 already lost from the post-Sept. 11 ban on flights.

Bateman hopes to organize a public protest to the Games-time restrictions on Utah's Capitol Hill sometime before the Olympics.

Meanwhile, hot air balloonists such as Wilde say they're thinking of moving outside the Olympic zone, but doing so would remove them from the more scenic flight areas and force their customers to get up at 4 a.m. in order to take off on time.

All types of aircraft grounded during Games

Aircraft to be grounded inside the 45-mile ring during the Winter Games include:

Hang gliders, paragliders, para-sails, acrobatic flights, radio remote controlled aircraft, gliders, ultralights, hot air balloons, airships, tethered balloons, flight training, parachuting, crop dusters, animal control flights, shrimp spotters, unmanned rockets and commercial cargo carriers not governed by the Federal Aviation Administration's Domestic Security Integration Program.

Anyone with questions regarding Olympic flight restrictions can call 801-538-1337.

E-mail: djensen@desnews.com