HOUSTON (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration has not passed a new safety regulation that legislators say would fortify supervision of the hot-air balloon industry and help avoid fatal crashes similar to a Texas crash that killed 16 people almost three years ago.
The agency’s indecision triggered an irritated response from Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who sent a letter to the FAA’s acting administrator asking what was causing the extended delay, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“Why has rule-making not been initiated?” Doggett asked. “When will rule-making be initiated? Continued inaction by FAA risks condemning yet more unsuspecting families to death.”
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that balloon pilot Alfred “Skip” Nichols was as impaired as a drunk driver when he ignored weather warnings and flew the ride into a power line in the deadliest hot air balloon crash in U.S. history. Nichols had taken a mixture of prescription medications such as Valium, Prozac and the painkiller oxycodone.
Doggett, along with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, helped create bipartisan legislation that requires medical exams for commercial balloon pilots, who have been exempt from health screenings since the 1930s. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz also authored a related measure in the Senate.
The Commercial Balloon Safety Pilot Act was linked to a funding bill for the FAA that President Donald Trump had signed into law on Oct. 5. The law gave the FAA 180 days to edit a federal regulation mandating medical examinations for other aircraft pilots and incorporate language that extends the requirement to include commercial balloon pilots.
That was 214 days ago.
Patricia Morgan, whose daughter and granddaughter, Lorilee and Paige Brabson, were killed in the balloon crash, said that the FAA has displayed little interest in ensuring hot air balloons are safe for the flying public.
“They need to do the right thing and get this corrected,” Morgan said.
Marcia Alexander-Adams, a spokeswoman for FAA, did not answer the newspaper’s questions about causes for the delay.
“The FAA is evaluating the feasibility of initiating rule-making on this topic,” she said.