Three years later, FAA proposes hot air balloon rules


From staff reports

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday proposed a rule requiring commercial hot-air-balloon pilots to hold medical certificates when operating for hire.
The proposed rule implements balloon safety legislation District 35 U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett authored that became law in 2018 as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act.
The new notice of proposed rulemaking was filed by the FAA and the U.S. Department of Transportation three years after the FAA Reauthorization Act was signed by former President Donald Trump and more than five years after a deadly hot air balloon crash occurred in near Lockhart in Caldwell County.
On July 30, 2016, a commercial balloon took off carrying 16 people near Lockhart. Piloted by an impaired airman, the balloon struck high transmission power lines and crashed, killing all 16. The Texas crash remains the deadliest aviation disaster in the United States since 2009. The NTSB’s investigation found that the FAA’s refusal to require balloon operators to obtain a medical certificate contributed to the Texas tragedy.
The new rule proposes that airmen hold a valid second-class medical certificate
But before the FAA proposed the rule, passengers on a June 26 commercial balloon flight in Albuquerque, New Mexico were exposed to another impaired pilot. This balloon again hit power lines, killing all on board.
“The action FAA has proposed today comes far too late to bring so many innocent lives back,” Doggett said. “While a welcome step, FAA must move promptly and implement a final rule to ensure no more families will be exposed to the horror of a crash from an impaired pilot.”
The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, which was signed into law in November 2018, contained an amendment requiring medical certifications for hot air balloon pilots.
Following the June crash in Albuquerque, Doggett excoriated the FAA for not creating a rule that reflected the law.
“As we remember the tragic, preventable loss of lives five years ago, let us also remember the failure of the Federal Aviation Administration to do its job. The FAA has delayed and delayed, even after enactment of an explicit law,” Doggett said, “now claiming adoption of a further regulation is necessary before complying with the law. The FAA has displayed a spirit of indifference—disregarding both National Transportation Safety Board recommendations and this law authored and passed in memory of those we lost near Lockhart.
“Passage of my passenger safety bill was the result of the dedicated work of the families and all who petitioned for this belated action. For the many who prayed and mourned the loss resulting from this unnecessary tragedy, know that you have been heard. We cannot bring these precious lives back. But, when this measure is finally implemented, we hope no more families will be exposed to the horror of a crash from an impaired pilot.”
Prior to the bill’s passage in 2018, 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 Doggett 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.
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.
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.


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