NTSB Chair Sumwalt: The FAA Should Act.


Image: NTSB

Robert Sumwalt, chair of the NTSB, posted a blog online this week critical of the FAA’s lack of action in the wake of a 2016 balloon crashthatwas the deadliest in U.S. history. Sixteen people, including the pilot, died when the hot-air balloon hit powerlines in Lockhart, Texas, while the pilot was attempting to land in poor visibility conditions. In its probable-cause report on the accident, the NTSB cited the pilot’s medical issues and use of medications as contributing factors, and also recommended the FAA should change its policy that exempts commercial balloon pilots from needing a medical certificate. “Two years after the Lockhart tragedy, and nearly 10 months after we issued this recommendation,” Sumwalt wrote, “we still haven’t received any indication that the FAA plans to require commercial balloon pilots to hold valid medical certificates. The FAA should act. The victims of this horrible accident and their families deserve nothing less, and future balloon passengers deserve better.” FAA spokesman Jim Peters told AVweb on Wednesday, “The Administrator [Acting Administrator Dan Elwell] is currently reviewing a further response to the [NTSB] recommendation.”

Peters also cited a response to the NTSB, sent by the FAA in December 2017, which says two teams of subject matter experts, from the FAA’s Airmen Training and Certification Branch and its General Aviation Operations Branch, would review the safety board’s recommendations and provide an update by this month. “If the two teams come to the conclusion not to adopt one or both safety recommendations (or an alternative), we will provide a clear explanation of the rationale behind our decision,” the FAA told the NTSB. The Statesman news site, based in Austin, Texas, noted in a story this week that a congressman from Austin won passage of an amendment to the FAA bill last week in the U.S. House that would require balloon operators to obtain a medical certificate. That bill has not yet come to the floor and is not expected to be voted on until after the November elections.