Texas lawmakers introduce bill to make hot air balloon rides safer

Texas lawmakers introduce bill to make hot air balloon rides safer
© Getty

A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers unveiled legislation on Monday designed to make hot air balloon operations safer in the wake of a deadly crash in Texas last year.


Reps. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Speaker Pelosi, seize the moment to make history on drug pricing House Democrats sue Treasury to turn over Trump tax returns MORE (D-Texas), Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Lawmaker seeks to ban ex-members from lobbying until sexual harassment settlements repaid MORE (R-Texas) and Will Hurd (R-Texas) introduced a measure that would mandate that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require medical certifications for commercial balloon pilots. 

“Because the FAA has failed to act, I am taking action to ensure no more families risk injury or death from unsafe hot-air balloon pilots,” Doggett said a statement.

“The FAA should not delegate its responsibility for public safety to a private lobbying group upon which it has thus far relied. Delay risks further disasters. No more balloon tragedies should be required to justify the reasonable safety measures we need,” he continued.

Efforts to reform how the hot air balloon industry is regulated have picked up steam since the worst hot air balloon disaster in U.S. history, when a balloon crash left 16 people dead last year.

Alfred Nichols, the lone operator of a small hot air balloon company, was piloting a hot air balloon in unsafe weather conditions near Lockhart, Texas, last summer when he struck high-voltage power lines and plunged into a rural field.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which held a hearing in Washington last week to discuss its investigation's findings, released a scathing report ripping the FAA over the fatal crash.

Investigators not only blamed the pilot’s poor decision-making for the disaster, but also faulted the FAA for its lack of oversight of smaller balloon companies and for exempting balloon pilots from medical checks. Unlike commercial airline pilots, commercial hot air balloon pilots are not required by the FAA to hold a medical certificate of any kind.

Nichols suffered from depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and had a cocktail of “multiple central nervous system-impairing drugs” in his system that likely affected his ability to make safe decisions during the crash, the NTSB determined. His medical conditions “would likely have led an aviation medical examiner to either defer or deny a medical certificate,” the NTSB said.

The safety board recommended that the FAA start requiring balloon pilots to obtain medical certificates and reevaluate its policies for conducting oversight of commercial balloon operators who “pose the most significant safety risks to the public.”

The FAA said it is reviewing the recommendations, which it has the authority to implement on its own. But some lawmakers in Congress aren’t waiting around for the agency to take action.

“While nothing will bring these innocent folks back, the tragedy shined a light on the industry, and gave us an opportunity to improve the safety of future passengers,” Hurd said. “If a commercial operator is responsible for the lives of others, he or she should be required to be licensed.”