More than six years after 16 people died in a hot air balloon crash in Central Texas, the Federal Aviation Administration has started enforcing new rules on commercial balloon pilots that were devised because of tragedy.
The new FAA rules require hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates while they are flying with paying passengers. That means pilots would need to submit to medical exams.
The new rule was proposed by Texas lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, after the July 30, 2016, balloon crash in Lockhart. Sixteen people were killed after a balloon crashed into a high-voltage power line. It was the deadliest crash involving a commercial hot air balloon in U.S. history An investigation after the crash found that the pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols was under the influence of prescription drugs and suffered from medical ailments that should have raised red flags at the FAA.
Before the new rule, balloon pilots weren’t required to undergo medical screenings.
The new rule was approved by Congress in 2018, as part of legislation that funds the FAA. However it took more more four years for the aviation regulator to implement the rules. In a statement, Doggett said the FAA “inexcusably delayed and delayed for years” before finalizing the rules.
“For the many who prayed and mourned the loss resulting from this unnecessary tragedy, know that you have been heard,” Doggett said. “We cannot bring these precious lives back. But, now that this is finally implemented, we hope no more families will be exposed to the horror of a crash from an impaired pilot.
I remember this incident but didn’t blog about it at the time. Apparently, the FAA just started on the rulemaking process in November of 2021, which is why this is just happening now, six-plus years after the incident and four years after the law was passed. Whether the delay was at least partly about Trump-era dysfunction or something else is not explained in the story. All I can say is that I for one would like to know that my hot air balloon pilot is in good health and capable of doing the job that day, in the unlikely event I ever take a hot air balloon ride. The fact that we shouldn’t have taken that as a given before that tragedy is the real problem. We’ve addressed this instance of it, but I worry there are more out there. But at least you can go up in that balloon now with more safety than before.