Commercial hot air balloon pilots should get the medical screenings


The National Transportation Safety Board will recommend new commercial hot air balloon pilot safety regulations to the Federal Aviation Administration. Unfortunately, it's expected to fall on deaf ears.

District 17 State Representative John Cyrier said the Lockhart, Texas balloon crash in July 2016 could've been avoided.

Just three years prior to the nation's deadliest balloon crash, he said the NTSB wrote a letter to the FAA recommending them to require a flight physical for commercial balloon pilots.

"It was ignored. There was a response back from the FAA that there wasn't that many tours, or that much balloon activity, that they felt that warranted," Cyrier said.

Currently, all paid commercial (helicopter, airplane) pilots—excluding balloon pilots—must have medical examination. Cyrier said it's not just a physical exam. Now, you go in and fill out forms about past medical history, felonies and driving record.

NTSB Investigators found that depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the combined effects of multiple central nervous system-impairing drugs likely affected the pilot’s ability to make safe decisions.

"If that was the case, we feel like this particular pilot would not have been able to keep his license, would not been able to pass the medical, which would've keep this accident from happening. He would not have been in that business," said Cyrier.

Cyrier arrived on the scene immediately, as it was almost in his back yard. He saw the 16 bodies and carnage that summer morning. Since then, he’s been working with the victims' families, NTSB and his colleagues.

He said Senator Ted Cruz has written an amendment on the FAA re-appropriation bill that requires a class 2 medical for commercial balloon pilots.

"I'm afraid it's going to take the act of Congress to get it done. I don't see the FAA working on this or even taking the recommendation," said Cyrier.

The FAA hasn't touched hot balloon regulations since the 1930s. Up to this point, a paid commercial balloon pilot didn't have to have a FAA flight medical.


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