LOCKHART, Texas — Editor's Note: The video above first aired in July 2022.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) adopted a new rule last week requiring commercial hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates when flying paying passengers.
The rule mandates a second-class medical certificate, which is the same standard required for other commercial pilots. First proposed in November 2021, the rule became final nearly a year later.
“Passengers can now rest assured that commercial balloon pilots must meet the same strict medical requirements as other commercial pilots," Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a release.
The new rule comes six years after a fatal hot air balloon crash in Lockhart when a pilot flying under the influence crashed into a powerline. All 16 riders died in the crash on July 30, 2016. The crash marked the deadliest commercial balloon crash in U.S. history and the worst aviation disaster since 2009.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the FAA's refusal to require balloon operations to obtain a medical certificate contributed to the crash.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who worked with the victims' families to pass legislation in an attempt to prevent similar incidents in the future, said the new rule was "inexcusably delayed" but is thankful it's now in effect.
“Almost six and a half years after the Lockhart tragedy from an impaired pilot, a full four years after passage of our law to ensure such tragedies cannot repeat, now, the law is finally in full force. The FAA inexcusably delayed and delayed for years, even after we wrote this requirement into a law, which was explicit. Now, thankfully, we finally have action," Doggett said.
Doggett's legislation on the matter was passed two years after the crash, in 2018, but the FAA didn't propose a rule change until November 2021 — more than five years after the crash. He previously called out the agency's "inaction" and helped pass a subsequent amendment to respond to the delay in implementation.
"For the many who prayed and mourned the loss resulting from this unnecessary tragedy, know that you have been heard. We cannot bring these precious lives back," Doggett said. "But, now that this is finally implemented, we hope no more families will be exposed to the horror of a crash from an impaired pilot.”