In an October 17 report, the NTSB cited the FAA’s policy on not requiring medical certification for commercial balloon pilots as a contributing factor in the fatal crash of a hot air balloon last year. The accident, which occurred on July 30, 2016, killed the pilot and all of the 15 passengers on board for the sight-seeing flight. While the NTSB report makes it clear that the probable cause of the accident was “the pilot’s pattern of poor decision-making,” it included two pointed safety recommendations for the FAA.
First, the NTSB asked for the removal of the medical certification exemption for commercial balloon pilots transporting passengers for compensation. According to the NTSB report, the pilot of the balloon had several medical conditions that might have impacted his decision-making ability. In addition, he had multiple (legal) central nervous system-impairing drugs in his system at the time of the crash. The NTSB points out that many of these medical factors would, at the very least, have been cause to look much more closely at the pilot’s fitness to fly if he had needed to pass a standard aviation medical exam.
Secondly, the NTSB recommended that the FAA analyze and adjust the way it oversees commercial balloon operations. The report states that most common way the FAA looks into commercial balloon operations is to visit balloon festivals and spot check the operators there. The NTSB believes that this method “does not effectively target the operations that pose the most significant safety risks to members of the public who choose to participate in commercial balloon sightseeing activities.”
Learn more at the NTSB.