FAA moves closer to requiring medical certificates 6 years after Lockhart balloon tragedy

LOCKHART, Texas (KXAN) – Saturday will mark the sixth anniversary of the tragic loss of 16 lives when a hot air balloon, whose pilot was under the influence, crashed into a power line in Lockhart.

It is the deadliest commercial balloon crash in United States history. There were no survivors.

On Friday, U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) called on the Federal Aviation Administration to implement legislation to improve balloon safety.

“The FAA continues to delay and delay, even after this requirement was enshrined in law, which was explicit,” Doggett said in a statement. “The FAA ignored security experts, ignored bipartisan demands for action, and so we finally passed legislation – and they ignored it. This callous bureaucracy’s action to stop the needless carnage has more than six years late.

The National Transportation Safety Board found that the lack of an FAA medical certificate contributed to the July 30, 2016 crash, Doggett said.

In the fall of 2018, Doggett and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) both worked on bipartisan legislation requiring medical and physical exams for commercial balloon pilots. The law was signed into law in October 2018. The law gave the FAA 180 days to incorporate these requirements into its regulations.

In November 2021, the FAA proposed a rule that meets the requirements of the law, an FAA spokesperson said.

The to reign requires commercial hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates when operating for hire. It would also require a second-class medical certificate, the same standard required for commercial pilots.

“Balloon pilots are responsible for the safety of their passengers,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “This proposed rule would ensure that balloon pilots meet the same medical requirements as pilots of other commercial aircraft.”

Currently, commercial balloon pilots are exempt from the medical requirement, a Release from the FAA said. In the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, Congress directed the FAA to revise medical certification standards for commercial balloon pilots. The proposed rule also responds to a recommendation from the NTSB asking the FAA to remove the exemption.

Doggett accuses the FAA of delaying the process.

An FAA spokesperson told KXAN, “We are reviewing public comments and drafting the final rule.”