Trump signs bill requiring medical certifications for balloon pilots 2 years after deadly Caldwell County crash
By Miles Smith
President Donald Trump has signed a bill containing legislation designed to prevent medically unfit pilots from causing balloon crashes such as the tragedy that struck outside Lockhart more than two years ago.
The balloon crash that killed 16 people outside Lockhart in July 2016 is among the deadliest in U.S. history and the deadliest aviation disaster since 2009.
The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 302) contained an amendment requiring medical certifications for hot air balloon pilots. Trump signed the bill into law on Friday.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the FAA’s lack of a rule requiring balloon operators to obtain medical certificates contributed to the Caldwell County crash.
The hot air balloon amendment was championed by U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and, prior to that, gained traction through the efforts of other local officials including State Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart) and former Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management Chief Martin Ritchey, who now serves as head of homeland security for the Capital Area Council of Governments.
“Finally, my amendment to ensure no pilot can fly without a medical certificate has been signed into law—and we successfully ensured that it was not watered down or changed in the long legislative process,” Doggett said. “This legislation was signed just as it was written: In memory of those we lost in Caldwell County, and thanks to the advocacy of their families and all those who prayed and petitioned after continued FAA inaction.
“We cannot unring a bell, and we cannot bring these precious lives back. But now, with today’s progress, we hope that other families will be spared such pain.”
The path to the amendment’s passage was a long one that began with the NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt, who was on scene following the balloon accident and Cyrier’s office, which remained in close contact with the NTSB following the crash to push for a public investigative hearing on the accident.
“Thank you for all your help with the initiation of this process,” said Patricia Morgan, whose daughter and granddaughter died in the crash, in an e-mail to Cyrier sent on Tuesday. “I am forever grateful for your participation and happy this is a start to protecting others.”
Cyrier said he was pleased to see the amendment pass.
“To have been a part of this healing process that followed after this tragic event has been very important to me,” Cyrier said.
In a public investigative hearing, the NTSB studies and identifies the errors and circumstances that contributed to an accident and can lead to discussions of policies and guidelines to help prevent them from being repeated.
H.R. 302 also reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration and related revenue authorities through Sept. 20, 2023, modifies the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster assistance authorities, provides $1.68 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Fund for long-term disaster recovery, further integrates unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace systems, and establishes a United States International Development Finance Corporation.