One year after the deadliest hot air balloon crash in American history, Texas lawmakers are proposing new rules to make the industry safer.
Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Will Hurd (R-TX) jointly introduced a measure to Congress which would mandate that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require medical certifications for hot air 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,” said Doggett in 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 disaster. No more balloon tragedies should be required to justify the reasonable safety measures we need,” the Representative continued.
TheHill.com reports that efforts to further regulate the hot-air balloon industry have ‘picked up steam’ since a crash in Texas last year left 16 dead.
Ballooner Alfred Nichols was piloting his craft in purportedly unsafe weather conditions, some miles away from Lockhart, TX.
When the balloon’s altitude dropped too low, it collided with high-voltage power lines and plummeted into a nearby field, killing all aboard.
The Hill reports that investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board ripped into the FAA last week, lambasting the agency for not requiring the same medical certifications for hot air balloon pilots as they do for those who fly winged aircraft.
On top of apparently poor decision-making skills, Nichols was also found to have ingested “multiple central nervous-impairing drugs” prior to take-off.
The cocktail of substances – which included enough Benadryl to have made Nichols ‘act drunk’ – likely contributed to his inability to properly navigate his aircraft. He apparently suffered from depression as well as attention deficit disorder.
His medical condition prior to take-off “would have likely led an aviation expert medical examiner to either defer or deny a medical certificate.”
Although the FAA is currently reviewing the requirements needed by hot air balloon pilots, the coalition of legislators decided they couldn’t wait.
“During my DC2DQ town hall stop in Ozona this August, I was moved by the personal story of a constituent who lost a family member in a recent hot air balloon accident,” explained Rep. Hurst in a statement. “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. If a commercial operator is responsible for the lives of others, he or she should be required to be licensed.”