Safety Recommendation A-17-034
Details
Synopsis: This report discusses the July 30, 2016, accident involving a Balóny Kubícek BB85Z hot air balloon, N2469L, operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, which struck power lines and crashed in a field near Lockhart, Texas. The pilot and 15 passengers died, and the balloon was destroyed by impact forces and postcrash fire. Safety issues identified in this report include the lack of medical oversight for commercial balloon pilots and the lack of targeted Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight of potentially risky commercial balloon operations. As a result of this investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board makes two safety recommendations to the FAA.
Recommendation: TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Remove the medical certification exemption in 14 Code of Federal Regulations 61.23(b) for pilots who are exercising their privileges as commercial balloon pilots and are receiving compensation for transporting passengers.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Open - Acceptable Response
Mode: Aviation
Location: Lockhart, TX, United States
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Is NPRM: No
Accident #: DCA16MA204
Accident Reports:
Report #: AAR-17-03
Accident Date: 7/30/2016
Issue Date: 10/31/2017
Date Closed:
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: FAA (Open - Acceptable Response)
Keyword(s):

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
To: FAA
Date: 2/4/2022
Response: We are aware that, on November 18, 2021, you published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled, “Medical Certification Standards for Commercial Balloon Operations,” which would require that aviators hold a valid second-class medical certificate when exercising the privileges of a commercial pilot certificate in a balloon for compensation or hire, except when conducting flight training in a balloon. In our December 28, 2021, comments, we strongly supported the proposed rulemaking and said a final rule based on this NPRM will satisfy Safety Recommendation A-17-34, assuming no substantive changes are made. Pending our review of the published final rule, Safety Recommendation A-17-34 remains classified OPEN-- ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: NTSB
To: FAA
Date: 12/28/2021
Response: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled “Medical Certification Standards for Commercial Balloon Operations,” published at 86 Federal Register 64419 on November 18, 2021. The proposed rulemaking would require that aviators hold a valid second-class medical certificate when exercising the privileges of a commercial pilot certificate in a balloon for compensation or hire except when conducting flight training in a balloon. The NTSB strongly supports the proposed requirement and believes this rulemaking will significantly improve commercial balloon safety. Historically, all balloon pilots have been exempted from regulation requiring medical certificates (see Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 61 sections 3 and 23). This NPRM states that only balloon pilots with a commercial rating who are actively performing flights for compensation or hire would require a second-class medical certificate. Balloon pilots involved in flight training or other personal activities would not require a second-class medical certificate. On July 30, 2016, a hot air balloon accident occurred in Lockhart, Texas, when the balloon struck power lines and crashed; the pilot and 15 passengers died. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the accident was “the pilot’s pattern of poor decision-making that led to the initial launch, continued flight in fog and above clouds, and descent near or through clouds that decreased the pilot’s ability to see and avoid obstacles.” The NTSB found that the pilot had a history of depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—each of which may increase the risk of poor decision-making and crashing—and was using multiple potentially impairing psychoactive medications at the time of the accident. Based on the FAA’s Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners, if the pilot had told his medical examiner about his diagnoses and medications, he would not have been eligible for a medical certificate. In addition, to obtain a medical certificate, the pilot would have had to submit to a review of the National Driver Register, which contained his history of several previous convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Even if the pilot failed to fully communicate his medical history and medication use during the aviation medical examination, the National Driver Register findings would have led the FAA to initially medically disqualify the pilot and initiate a review of his medical fitness. If the pilot had been flying any other aircraft capable of holding 15 paying passengers (or any paying passengers), he would have been required to hold a second-class medical certificate; a certificate he would have been unable to obtain. As a result, the NTSB found that “(1) the pilot’s impairing medical conditions and medications and (2) the [FAA’s] policy to not require a medical certificate for commercial balloon pilots” contributed to the accident. As a result, the NTSB issued the following recommendation to the FAA: Remove the medical certification exemption in [Title] 14 Code of Federal Regulations 61.23(b) for pilots who are exercising their privileges as commercial balloon pilots and are receiving compensation for transporting passengers. (A-17-34) On June 22, 2020, the NTSB classified Safety Recommendation A-17-34 “Open?Acceptable Response,” pending our review of the FAA’s NPRM and corresponding final rule. As stated above, the NTSB strongly supports this NPRM and its proposed requirement that aviators hold a valid second class medical certificate when exercising the privileges of a commercial pilot certificate in a balloon for compensation or hire except when conducting flight training in a balloon. Issuing a final rule based on this NPRM will satisfy Safety Recommendation A-17-34, assuming no substantive changes are made. The NTSB appreciates the opportunity to comment on this NPRM.

From: FAA
To: NTSB
Date: 5/6/2021
Response: -From Steve Dickson, Administrator: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to agree with the Board that balloon pilots exercising their commercial privileges while transporting passengers should be required to obtain a second class medical certificate when transporting passengers for compensation or hire. We also acknowledge language written in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, published on October 5, 2018, which includes the Commercial Balloon Pilot Safety Act of 2018 mandate. This mandate requires that Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations § 61.3(c), Medical Certificate, be revised to apply to an operator of an air balloon to the same extent such regulations apply to a pilot or flight crewmember of other aircraft. The FAA is actively engaged in rulemaking to satisfy the language in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. In our letter dated March 30, 2020, we stated that the Medical Certification Standards for Commercial Balloon Operations Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) would be published by June 2020. Due to other rulemaking priorities and associated resource constraints, we now expect to publish the NPRM in Calendar Year 2021. I will keep the Board informed of the FAA’s progress on this recommendation and anticipate providing an update by May 31, 2022.

From: NTSB
To: FAA
Date: 6/22/2020
Response: We are pleased to learn that the topic of this recommendation has been approved for rulemaking and that a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is being developed under the rulemaking project 2120-AL51, “Medical Certification Standards for Commercial Balloon Operations.” Pending our review of the published NPRM and corresponding final rule, Safety Recommendation A-17-34 remains classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: NTSB
To: FAA
Date: 3/30/2020
Response: -From Steve Dickson, Administrator: The Federal Aviation Administration’s Rulemaking Council accepted this topic for rulemaking activity, and has initiated rulemaking under the rulemaking project 2120-AL51, Medical Certification Standards for Commercial Balloon Operations. The notice of proposed rulemaking is currently under development, and we anticipate publication in June 2020. I will keep the Board informed of the FAA’s progress on this safety recommendation and anticipate providing an update by February 2021.

From: NTSB
To: FAA
Date: 2/4/2019
Response: We note that you agree with the safety benefit of this recommendation, and you have determined that adopting this recommendation will require rulemaking. Your letter stated that you will evaluate your future rulemaking agenda in light of current priorities to see where this recommendation could be included. We further note that section 318 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires that, within 180 days from enactment (by April 3, 2019), you revise 14 CFR 61.3(c) to require the same medical certification for hot air balloon pilots as for pilots of other aircraft. Pending completion of the recommended action, Safety Recommendation A-17-34 is classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: FAA
To: NTSB
Date: 9/27/2018
Response: -From Daniel K. Elwell, Acting Administrator: The 17ederal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airmen Training and Certification Branch and its General Aviation Operations Branch evaluated this recommendation and determined that adopting this recommendation would require rulemaking. The FAA agrees with the Board as to the safety benefit of this recommendation. We will continue to evaluate our future rulemaking agenda in light of current priorities to see where this recommendation could be included. While we make this determination, the f AA continues to explore non-regulatory avenues to achieve the same safety goals as the recommended action, such as supporting the Balloon Federation of America’s (BFA) Envelope of Safety program. This program, developed by the BFA’s 'Call to Action’ committee established in July 2016, seeks to improve safety and professionalism throughout the balloon ride industry. It also has the goal of providing consumers with safety culture information of specific balloon operators. Medical certification for pilots are one of the parameters for this program. and more information is available at the following website: https://www.bfa.net/index.php/cnvelopc-of-safoty-program. I will keep the Board informed of the FAA 's progress on this safety recommendation and provide an update by July 2019.

From: NTSB
To: FAA
Date: 1/25/2018
Response: We note that you have assigned these recommendations to two teams of subject matter experts who will evaluate them. Please inform us of your planned actions after you have determined how you will address the safety issues we found in our investigation. Pending that information, Safety Recommendations A-17-34 and -45 remain classified OPEN--AWAIT RESPONSE.

From: FAA
To: NTSB
Date: 12/11/2017
Response: -From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assigned these recommendations to its Airmen Training and Certification Branch and its General Aviation Operations Branch, where two teams of subject matter experts will evaluate them. 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. I will keep the Board informed of the FAA· s progress on these safety recommendations and provide an update by August 2018.

From: NTSB
To: FAA
Date: 10/31/2017
Response: On October 17, 217, the NTSB adopted its report Impact with Power Lines, Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, Balóny Kubícek BB85Z, N2469L, Lockhart, Texas, July 30, 2016, AAR1703. The details of this accident investigation and the resulting safety recommendations may be found in the attached report, which can also be accessed at http://www.ntsb.gov. Among the Safety Recommendations are two issued to the Federal Aviation Administration, which can be found on page 50 of the report. The NTSB is vitally interested in these recommendations because they are designed to prevent accidents and save lives. We would appreciate a response within 90 days, detailing the actions you have taken or intend to take to implement these recommendations. When replying, please refer to the safety recommendations by number. We encourage you to submit your response to correspondence@ntsb.gov. If it exceeds 10 megabytes, including attachments, please e-mail us at the same address for instructions. Please do not submit both an electronic copy and a hard copy of the same response.