According to the FAA, “benefits of the proposed rule include increased safety of commercial balloon operations through reduced risk of accidents, fatalities, and injuries caused by medically impaired balloon pilots.”
Calls for changes to medical standards stemmed from a 2016 fatal crash in Lockhart, Texas, that killed 16 people, including the pilot. Following the investigation, authorities discovered that the pilot was impaired after taking prescription medication and flying the balloon into a power line.
Currently, balloon pilots are not required to obtain a pilot’s medical certificate, although they cannot operate if they have certain medical conditions. Following the November 2 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said, “Balloon pilots are responsible for the safety of their passengers…This proposed rule would ensure that balloon pilots meet the same medical requirements as pilots of other commercial aircraft.
The FAA regulations are consistent with the safety regulations proposed in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, as well as the NTSB’s recommendation to remove the exemption.
Although the FAA does not have a database of commercial hot air balloon operators, it estimates that 356 individual operators will be affected, with nearly 5,000 hot air balloons registered with the agency.
Pat Cannon, president of the Balloon Federation of America, said the new rule’s impact on the balloon industry is still unclear, as many balloon operators have never had to go through the process. obtaining a medical certificate.
“I believe the institution of a second class doctor will not be friendly and supportive to many of us, but similarly would you want your family to fly in a 16 or 18 passenger airliner and that you knew the pilots up before never had a medical visit? So I guess there is some justification for this, especially with the big balloon operators.
“Along with that, we have people we know who have been flying for years and years and years who may have conditions that would cause them to abort their flight, at least from a business perspective,” he said. -he adds.
The proposed rule also includes a provision to extend the BasicMed requirements to include persons not acting as PICs, namely safety pilots. AOPA supports the proposed change because it will provide many more opportunities for individuals to gain experience and maintain their skills. Since its inception five years ago, more than 69,000 pilots have qualified to fly under the BasicMed program as general aviation is on course for the safest year ever.
The new requirement would not apply to pilots undergoing balloon pilot training. The public will have 60 days to provide comments after the proposed rule is posted in the Federal Register. After the comment period ends, the FAA will review all comments before issuing a final rule.