According to San Antonio Current’s recent report, the Federal Aviation Administration adopted a final rule requiring commercial hot-air balloon pilots to carry medical certificates if they fly paying passengers. On July 30, 2016, 16 people were killed when the hot air balloon they were riding in struck power lines, crashed, and caught fire in the community of Maxwell, near Lockhart, Texas.
The rule requires commercial hot-air balloon pilots to hold a second-class medical certificate – the same standard required for other commercial pilots. U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, authored the law in response to the tragic Lockhart air balloon crash, in which a pilot flying under the influence hit a power line.
The FAA is recently implementing the rule on a federal level after the Texas Legislature passed similar requirements in 2018.
USA Today reported that the crash was the deadliest hot-air balloon accident in U.S. history.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s final accident report filed in 2017, they determined that the pilot had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known to cause cognitive deficits that could have affect the flight. Had that fact been properly reviewed by the FAA, the report suggests, an aviation medical examiner likely would have rejected his medical certificate and the crash could have been prevented.
The federal agency also noted the FAA failed to catch several major safety violations as a possible cause of the crash. “The FAA did not detect the pilot’s history of drug and alcohol convictions for over 20 years,” the report said. “The FAA also did not identify the pilot’s failure to properly report his history of offenses on his 1996 application for a third-class medical certificate, and, because the pilot was not required to obtain a medical certificate as a commercial balloon pilot, the FAA did not have further opportunities to identify his convictions via the medical certification process.”