Congress Demands Medicals For Balloons

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In the wake of the NTSB report on the deadly hot air balloon crash at Lockhart, Texas, a bipartisan group of three Texas congressmen and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have introduced bills in both chambers to require medical certificates for operators of hot air balloons. Pilots of hot air balloons are not currently required to have a medical certificate, even at the commercial level. Alfred “Skip” Nichols, 49, the owner of Heart of Texas Balloons and the pilot on the day of the Lockhart accident that killed 16 people, had Valium, oxycodone and the antihistamine Benadryl in his system on the day of the crash, said the NTSB. The combined effect was enough to mimic "the impairing effect of a blood-alcohol level" of a drunk driver, said Dr. Nicholas Webster, a medical officer with the NTSB. Requiring medical certification for lighter-than-air pilots was one of the NTSB’s post-crash recommendations.

Although entitled the “Commercial Balloon Pilot Safety Act of 2017,” the Senate bill would apply to all levels of balloon certificate holders. The body of the brief act reads, “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall revise part 61.3(c) of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (relating to medical certificates), to apply to operators of air balloons to the same extent such regulations apply to operators of other aircraft.”

AVweb reported on the Board's findings when they were released earlier this month.

Comments (11)

"to the same extent such regulations apply to operators of other aircraft"

That's pretty vague since some other aircraft (airplanes) require medicals but some other aircraft (gliders) don't. But don't tell them gliders don't or they may decide to regulate those too.

Posted by: jvo fnr | October 23, 2017 5:13 PM    Report this comment

Okay, I'll bite. How would this accident have been prevented by requiring the pilot to hold a medical certificate?

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 24, 2017 3:58 AM    Report this comment

Any chance of getting that amended to apply only to commercial operators?

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | October 24, 2017 6:49 AM    Report this comment

If bad judgement is reason enough for a medical....
I suggest that elected officials take both a medical and an IQ test before operating government.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 24, 2017 7:00 AM    Report this comment

In addition to his abuse of prescription drugs, Mr. Nichols suffered from alcohol addiction which resulted in numerous DUI convictions - a situation that would have prevented him from exercising the privileges of a commercial certificate had a medical been required.

I do not like the expansion of regulations any more than anyone else. But, if we won't clean out the knuckleheads in our midst, we are just asking the government to do it for us.

Posted by: kim hunter | October 24, 2017 1:21 PM    Report this comment

Thank god! Finally! As we all are aware, in order to fix anything, all it merely takes is more regulation and government intervention. You don't find near as much honesty, integrity, fiscal and personal responsibility, and selflessness outside of government bureaucracy.

Posted by: Samuel Cobb | October 24, 2017 1:41 PM    Report this comment

As Paul B. has said several times, regulations are promulgated over dead bodies. The more you kill, the quicker the regulations fly. Frankly, l am surprised it took this long for Congress to act considering their penchant for knee-jerk reactions and the spectacular nature of the case involved. Whether it helps or not remains to be seen.

Posted by: John McNamee | October 24, 2017 3:45 PM    Report this comment

This story is amazing! I thought I would never hear that Congress would agree on anything!

Posted by: Don Lineback | October 25, 2017 1:28 AM    Report this comment

"to the same extent such regulations apply to operators of other aircraft"

Very vague (as with most legislation - confuse the situation and leave it to the courts). Could some balloons fall under the experimental or even Sport Pilot classification that doesn't actually require a 3rd Class medical?

Posted by: Dave B | October 25, 2017 9:58 AM    Report this comment


At the risk of misinterpreting your comments, it appears to me that you are justifying a requirement for a medical certificate on the basis that it might screen out alcoholic pilots with a history of DUI motor vehicle convictions.

But such convictions alone could provide a basis for the suspension/revocation of one's pilot certificate - without resorting to the machinery of medical certification. Now that BasicMed has arrived, the FAA likely will have to re-think their means of dealing with DUIs, anyway.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 25, 2017 12:55 PM    Report this comment

Not to defend the requirement for medical certificates for balloon operations, but the comparison to gliders seems off base. Unless the gliders used for the D-Day invasion are resurrected, we're not going to see 16 persons packed on board...

Posted by: RAY MONTAGNE | October 25, 2017 6:03 PM    Report this comment

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