Well, it is important, but our efforts and our legal adjudications aren't consistent at this time. It's hard to be consistent, harder to get everything you want and impossible to be perfect.

Two and a half years later, don't whine. Tell me what has been done right in Coolidge now that we are faced with the unpleasant situation.

Brian W. Kenny
applied anthropologist
Southwestern Archaeology, Inc.

Trial Balloon
I read with interest the article about hot air ballooning ("Would You Like to Fly My Beautiful Balloon?" Terry Greene Sterling) published in the April 1 issue.

I understand that the public may be interested in reading again about the September 27, 1996, accident involving Jeff Sherman and Naturally High balloon company, although I believe that the accident in question was already covered at length by various media over more than two years.

I regret, however, that the author of the article seems to enjoy exposing a scary, one-sided view of the entire commercial ballooning industry. The front-page announcement "Regulation of commercial balloon pilots lighter than air," and "Hot Air, Cold Facts," published on page 23, particularly attracted my attention. I would like to comment more specifically about the experience needed to fly commercial balloons, and about the safety record claimed by the pilots interviewed for your story:

1. If one questions the standards of proficiency and experience required for hot air balloon pilots, arguing that an FAA test flight in a small balloon enables the pilot to fly a giant balloon, one must also know that insurance companies have their own minimum experience requirements, usually expressed in hundreds of hours as pilot in command for each class of balloon size, starting with small balloons and requiring the experience for each size increment before they agree to provide coverage to a commercial pilot. Insurance coverage, not simply FAA certification, is what qualifies a commercial balloon operator to be a reputable player in the industry. When I took the test drive for my driver's license, I was asked to drive around a block at 15 mph, and was told to stop at each stop sign before making a right turn. The test was conducted during daylight, on deserted streets and on dry pavement. The driver's license given to me after such testing does allow me to drive a 450 hp Viper, and to merge on a congested freeway during rush hour and to drive at night and during rainy days.

2. When you write on page 23 that "the truth is, there is no way to know how safe the Valley's skies are [because] . . . without the number of passengers, it is impossible to figure out frequency of injuries and deaths [and] . . . commercial pilots do not always report accidents . . . ," I would like to say that if you don't trust the figures quoted by the balloon pilots interviewed regarding the number of passengers flown, just drive to Cave Creek and Jomax roads at sunrise for seven days in a row. Establish your average weekly figure, and do your math. As your story shows, even if some accidents are not reported by some pilots, the victims of such accidents will do it for them.

The bottom line is, in my opinion, the ballooning community is just a sample of society. You will find outstanding people, average people and a limited number of rotten apples. I would like to encourage prospective balloon riders to focus on the background and safety record of the company they are booking their flight with. As a commercial balloonist myself, I am confronted by daily phone calls of people inquiring only about the cost or about the free perks offered along with the balloon ride itself. Very rarely do I have the occasion to talk to people about safety considerations. Also, tremendous pressure can be put on the balloon pilot by the passengers themselves, who sometimes get extremely frustrated when a flight is canceled for the sake of safety, i.e., likelihood of increasing winds or unsettled weather.

In all due respect for your desire to inform the public of the potential hazards of ballooning, it would be very comforting to see you spend as much time, ink and paper on those commercial balloon operators who take their jobs seriously and provide to the public a safe, enjoyable and yet unforgettable experience.

Stan de Germiny, owner-operator
The Hot Air Balloon Company Inc.
Cave Creek

POW Power
Regarding Amy Silverman's in-depth piece on John McCain ("Is John McCain a War Hero?" March 25): Personally, I thought that was a helluva report--as in thorough, balanced, illuminating of many, maybe all, sides.

I wouldn't say there was evidence of which side you may be on--and that's notable considering the BS bug that infects even the most reputable.

Storrs Warinner
Colonel AF '54-'80
F-4 Pilot Ubon '67-'68
Las Vegas, Nevada

I can hardly wait to see the cover story next week! Will it be "Did Bill or Hillary Shoot Vince Foster?" or "Did LBJ Hire a Hit Man to Assassinate JFK?" I'm certain that, without even trying, Amy Silverman could find a Web site and proponents of either theory and either story (or thousands of others, such as "Is George Bush the Son of a Space Alien?").

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