New rules created after ball crash in Texas go into effect

New FAA rules require hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates when flying with fare-paying passengers. This means that pilots should undergo medical examinations.

DRIFT BALLOONS: The FAA has resisted efforts to tighten oversight of the balloon industry

The new rule was proposed by Texas lawmakers, including U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, after the July 30, 2016 balloon crash at Lockhart. Sixteen people were killed after a balloon crashed into a high voltage power line. It was the deadliest accident involving a commercial hot air balloon in United States history. An investigation after the accident revealed that the pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols was under the influence of prescription drugs and suffered from health issues that should have alerted the FAA.

Prior to the new rule, balloon pilots were not required to undergo medical examinations.

The new rule was approved by Congress in 2018, as part of the legislation that funds the FAA. However, it took more than 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 people who have prayed and mourned the loss resulting from this needless tragedy, please know that you were heard,” Doggett said. “We cannot bring back these precious lives. But, now that this is finally implemented, we hope that no more families will be exposed to the horror of an impaired pilot accident.

Cruz, in a statement, said the new rule “will help ensure that the Lockhart tragedy never happens again.”

The FAA did not begin its rulemaking process until November 2021, Doggett said. The agency released its final rules last week.

Between the time the rule was passed by Congress and its implementation, there has been at least one fatal hot air balloon accident involving an impaired pilot. In September 2021, five people died in Albuquerque after an impaired pilot crashed a balloon into power lines.

john.ferguson@chron.com