From the Clocktower – Oversight for balloon pilots: It’s time.

By Kathi Bliss


If you’ve read my stuff for more than a few weeks, you’re probably pretty well aware that I’m all about small government, personal responsibility and an abject lack of interference. I’m all about personal freedoms extending as far as they can, until those personal freedoms encroach into someone else’s bubble.

In short, do what you like, so long as your choices don’t impact other people, and you’re not asking someone else to pay for it.

As much as I’m generally against expanding government oversight, though, I was very happy to see Senator Ted Cruz file a SB 1394, which will require the FAA to revisit standards that haven’t been touched since Dorothy flew over the rainbow. Specifically, it will place commercial balloon pilots under the same medical scrutiny that other pilots are subject to – requiring annual medical examinations to prove that the pilots are medically fit to fly. This update is long overdue, and I’m glad the Senator is pushing it.

This idea cropped up, some five years ago, and was shot down by the touring balloon lobby, as it would have been “oppressively expensive” for touring companies. The oversight was unnecessary, they said, because of the comparatively small number of balloon tour passengers, versus airline passengers. It was overreaching, they said, because it could then be extended to sporting pilots, who don’t take passengers for pay.

I call “shenanigans.” I think, if balloonists were interested in preserving the sanctity of their profession and their trade, they would be the first in line to support legislation to make the industry safer.

Research indicates that an FAA Medical costs between $75 and $160 a year. Heart of Texas Balloon Rides, for example, charged $299 per head. Assuming one flight a week, with 10 passengers per flight, that comes to $155,480 per year.

And while I understand overhead costs, and general price of doing business, I fail to see any true financial burden in $160 per year. It seems a whole lot more like the industry saying “we don’t want to submit to medical exams.”

Which… Scares me.

Until July 30 of last year, I wanted for my whole life to take a hot air balloon flight. More than once, I have called my little nieces out of the house into the yard, or even loaded them in the car to go and chase “the smiley-face balloon.” It was something we all loved doing.

These days, I never know what to say when they ask why they never see the balloon any more. At eight and nine years old, they’re still a little too young to grasp the magnitude of what happened last summer, and anyway, that’s for their parents to discuss. But when you boil it right down, and you think about it, if the Government gets a little bit bigger to keep that from EVER happening again, isn’t it worth it?

A recent online push by one of the surviving families to petition the White House to introduce legislation to regulate the industry failed to gain the traction it needed; it was nice to see Senator Cruz take this bull by the horns. I hope the rest of the Senate, and then the House, decides to do the right thing.

It’s probably something that people don’t think about, because this ISN’T something that happens in everyone’s back yard. But this DID happen in our back yard. And it’s my fondest hope that no community ever has to see something like that again – at least, certainly not because the governmental body that we trust to oversee our safety in the sky was actively looking the other way.

You can find contact information for our Federal representatives at the bottom of this page. Do with that what you will. I know what I intend to do.



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