Despite pressure from legislators and safety advocates, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it has no intentions of tightening commercial hot air balloon regulations, at least until federal investigators wrap up their probe of the July 30 balloon crash that killed 16 people in Lockhart, Texas.
But that investigation, led by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), could take 18 months or longer to complete. Already in the weeks following the horrific July 30 Heart of Texas balloon crash there have been other, non-fatal brushes with disaster involving hot air balloons.
On Oct. 2, two hot air balloons drifted into power lines at the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, N.M., creating high-voltage explosions and knocking out power to thousands of city residents.
On Aug. 28, another hot air balloon crash-landed near a parking lot about 40 miles north of Lockhart, Texas, narrowly missing a row of power lines.
U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), urged the FAA in August to reconsider previous calls by the NTSB to regulate the commercial hot air balloon operations. Currently, the industry is mostly self-regulated.
According to the Austin-American Statesman, the NTSB warned the FAA two years ago that lax oversight of the commercial balloon industry could lead to a high number of deaths in a single accident.
“FAA Administrator Michael Huerta wrote that the agency will wait until the safety board’s investigation into the Lockhart crash is finished before considering any new or previous recommendations from [the NTSB],” the American-Statesman reported.
The NTSB’s previous recommendations, which it will likely issue again after the Lockhart crash investigation is complete, urged aviation regulators to require balloon pilots to provide letters of authorization to local FAA offices, just as helicopter and airplane pilots must do. Those letters would put hot air balloons on the FAA’s radar, ensuring “periodic surveillance checks” of equipment condition and proper maintenance.
On Thursday, Rep. Doggett said the FAA’s response was “very unsatisfactory,” suggesting the FAA was doing little more than regulating in the balloon industry’s “self-interest.”
“We already have plenty of evidence we need to increase standards of balloon safety,” Rep. Doggett said. “I am not pleased to see (consideration of recommendations) delayed further.”