LOCKHART, Texas (KXAN) — Saturday will mark the sixth anniversary of the tragic loss of 16 lives when a hot air balloon, whose pilot was under the influence, crashed into a power line in Lockhart.
It was the deadliest commercial balloon crash in U.S. history. There were no survivors.
On Friday, U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) called on the Federal Aviation Administration to implement the legislation designed to improve balloon safety.
“The FAA just continues to delay and delay, even after this requirement was written into a law, which was explicit,” said Doggett in a release. “The FAA ignored safety experts, ignored bipartisan requests for action, and so we finally passed a law—and they have ignored that. Action by this unresponsive bureaucracy to stop the unnecessary carnage is more than six years overdue.”
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the FAA’s lack of a medical certificate contributed to the crash on July 30, 2016, Doggett said.
In the fall of 2018, Doggett and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) both worked on bipartisan legislation to require medical and physical exams for commercial balloon pilots. The act was signed into law in October 2018. The law gave the FAA 180 days to work those requirements into its regulation.
In November 2021, the FAA proposed a rule that addresses the requirements of the Act, a spokesperson for the FAA said.
The rule requires commercial hot-air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates when operating for hire. It would also mandate a second-class medical certificate, the same standard required for commercial pilots.
“Balloon pilots are responsible for the safety of their passengers,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said. “This proposed rule would ensure that balloon pilots meet the same medical requirements as pilots of other commercial aircraft.”
Currently, commercial balloon pilots are exempt from the medical requirement, a release from the FAA said. In the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, Congress directed the FAA to revise the medical certification standards for commercial balloon pilots. The draft rule also addresses a recommendation from the NTSB that the FAA remove the exemption.
Doggett is accusing the FAA of delaying the process.
An FAA spokesperson told KXAN, “We’re reviewing public comments and drafting the final rule.”