Commercial Balloon Pilots Now Need Medicals


The FAA has adopted a final rule requiring commercial balloon pilots to have a current second class medical to fly passengers. The rule was adopted Wednesday but has been in the works for four years after Congress passed a bill mandating it. ‚ÄúPassengers can now rest assured that commercial balloon pilots must meet the same strict medical requirements as other commercial pilots,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen in a statement issued Wednesday by the FAA.

The congressional action came after a 2016 balloon crash in Texas killed all 16 aboard. The investigation concluded that the pilot was likely impaired by drugs and had mental health issues. The NTSB also recommended that the FAA adopt a medical requirement for commercial balloons following the tragedy. Before Wednesday, commercial balloon operators were asked to follow a voluntary set of standards established by the Balloon Federation of America.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. See no problem requiring this of a commercial balloon pilot. Didn’t know that this wasn’t already a requirement for this category.

  2. We all have a “primary” physician who knows ALL of our health problems, yet we can have a “primary” ME who only knows what we want to confess……there is the problem. Maybe those two should be linked together. I know I can hear the screams from here, from those of you with something to hide.

    P.S. I had brain surgery and do not have a current medical because of it…..I confessed it to my ME. The FAA has given me to opportunity to have my “primary physician” complete some paperwork to regain my medical, but so far I still don’t feel 100% so I decline.

    it is called responsibly over my joy of flying, and possibly endangering the public.

    • For those utilizing BasicMed, the two are indeed linked together. And so far, the statistics show that BM pilots, without any FAA medical meddling, are no more likely to have a medical issue in flight than those with a 3rd class medical.

  3. I fly turbines, helicopters, gliders, seaplanes, and balloons–so I have a current medical.

    Irregardless of whether a pilot has a current medical or not, it is the pilot’s responsibility to self-ground if they have an issue. This is not unlike an aircraft having a “current annual”, but that doesn’t mean it is OK for the next flight–the PILOT makes that decision. Same for “fitness to fly.”

    Now we have CONGRESS making aviation law. What could be worse than the FAA making law? Having the know-nothings in CONGRESS making aviation law.

    I guess that before every flight, we are not only having to inspect the aircraft, check the weather, check for NOTAMS–but will have to READ THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD to see what idiocy has been passed.

  4. Putting passengers at unacceptable risk due to a pilot’s capability or lack thereof is the issue here. There is such a thing as an “ultralight balloon” (Hmmmm…) which requires no training to fly. But an operator of one cannot carry passengers. If somebody wants to take a certain risk, knowing they are impaired, it’s their own business. Involving others is wrong. Involving paying passengers who have a reasonable expectation of professional conduct by the pilot is as wrong as it gets. Would anybody ride with an Uber driver who was wearing an eyepatch?

  5. Other than the single issue of the pilot mentioned in the article (“the pilot was likely impaired by drugs and had mental health issues”) I can’t think of a case where of a physically impaired balloon pilot in all of the pilots I’ve known–DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE LACK OF REQUIREMENT FOR A MEDICAL ATTRACTS PEOPLE TO BALLOONING.

    Using such logic would suggest that if the time came when I didn’t have a medical, I should surrender my commercial license and have it downgraded to Private Pilot (or worse yet, people should think twice before obtaining a commercial license!).

    Particularly strange was the rhetorical question (“Would anybody ride with an Uber driver who was wearing an eyepatch?”) as I’ve known a number of aircraft pilots with monocular vision.
    GOD SAVE US FROM THE “DO-GOODERS”! Don’t give the Congresscritters any ideas!

  6. Unfortunately, the comments I would care to read are those from the 16 mentioned in the article and they aren’t here to do that. Thats a sobering thought.

    • When someone charges persons who likely know nothing of the risks and hazards of aviation it’s surprising that there is argument against even the minimalist requirement for a 2nd class medical.

      So, for all who argue against periodic flight physicals… do you tell your family or invitees who fly as passengers that you lie on your medical exams about health conditions or recreational drugs you enjoy?