AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the first step toward increasing safety requirements for hot air balloon pilots, in response to a fatal crash near Lockhart in 2016.
Sixteen people, including the balloon pilot, were killed in what would become the deadliest crash in US history. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation found the pilot was “as impaired as a drunk driver”, after taking prescription medication, when he flew the balloon into a power line.
Two years later, Congress passed a law requiring a specific type of medical license for commercial balloon pilots, in an effort to make pilots more accountable and prevent these types of accidents.
“We want to make sure each of these operators doesn’t have a long history of drug and alcohol abuse that happened in both the Lockhart and Albuquerque tragedies,” the U.S. Representative said. Lloyd Doggett.
The Austin lawmaker drafted this legislation and said he was frustrated to see the FAA — which is responsible for crafting these rules and enforcing them — moving slowly.
“I think they drug this for about as long as they can,” he said.
He said he was heartbroken to see more lives lost in a fatal accident earlier this year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to a toxicology report, the pilot in this incident showed that the pilot had THC and cocaine in his system, when his balloon hit a power line. An FAA spokesperson told KXAN this summer that this pilot had medical certification.
On Tuesday, the agency proposed the rule that would require these types of certifications. In a statement, a spokesperson explained that they would file the proposal with the Federal Register in November. Then they will open a 60-day public comment period for feedback.
Doggett said they may consider adding additional safety recommendations to the proposed rule. His office plans to submit comments.
Once the FAA reviews these comments, the agency will formalize the final rule and publish it.
- Read the proposed rule here
In a statement, 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 aircraft. other commercial aircraft.
When Patricia Morgan heard the news, she immediately became emotional. She lost her daughter and granddaughter in the 2016 crash.
“It was heartbreaking for all of us who fought so hard to achieve this,” she said, through tears.
She said she had been contacting lawmakers and government officials about the change for years.
“We don’t want others to have to sacrifice their children or sacrifice their lives because of laws that aren’t in place,” she said.