New Rule Protects Hot Air Balloon Passengers


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​​NTSB recommendation made after horrific 2016 crash

WASHINGTON (Nov. 22, 2022) – National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy welcomed new medical rules for hot air balloon pilots while citing the need for greater oversight of air tours.

The new rule, adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration this week and mandated by Congress in 2018 after an NTSB recommendation, requires pilots of hot air balloons carrying paying passengers to hold a medical certificate and pass a medical exam – like commercial airplane and helicopter pilots.

NTSB first made the recommendation for balloon pilot medical certificates after a hot air balloon carrying 16 people including the pilot crashed into powerlines outside Lockhart, Texas, on July 30, 2016, killing all aboard. NTSB investigators found that the FAA did not detect the pilot’s history of drug and alcohol convictions for nearly 30 years. Because the pilot was not required to obtain a medical certificate as a commercial balloon pilot, the FAA did not have further opportunities to identify his convictions through the medical certification process.

The change comes after years of advocacy and action by the NTSB, lawmakers and others. The FAA published its proposed rule to require medical certificates last November.

“Though this is a promising step, I remain concerned about passenger safety on commercial balloon flights,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “We’ve seen the deadly consequences of unscrupulous air tour operators time and again. That is why we need strong FAA oversight of all revenue passenger-carrying flight operations.”

The NTSB has a long history of concerns about the safety of various revenue passenger-carrying operations, including sightseeing flights conducted in hot air balloons, helicopters and other aircraft as well as parachute jump flights. These operations are not subject to the same maintenance, airworthiness and operational requirements as other commercial flight operations. 

Following the Lockhart accident, the NTSB also recommended the FAA analyze its oversight and implement more effective ways to target the oversight to operators that pose the most significant safety risks to the public. The NTSB reiterated the recommendation in 2021: Enhance Safety of Revenue Passenger-Carrying Operations Conducted Under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.​

To learn more about our Lockhart investigation, read our report: 

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).