Improving Hot Air Balloon Oversight

In July of 2016, Caldwell County was the site of the one of the nation’s worst transportation accidents in recent history when a commercial hot air balloon crashed, taking all 16 lives aboard. Following the disaster, Rep. Cyrier immediately requested an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which was granted. This made sure that family members of those who lost their lives had the opportunity to learn the facts surrounding the crash, and would help to prevent similar crashes in the future.

Over the past year, the NTSB held public hearings and fully investigated the crash. John traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with crash investigators and NTSB members. The facts that emerged were nothing short of alarming. The pilot of the balloon had a long pattern of alcohol related driving convictions, took prescription drugs that could impair his flying ability, and yet retained his pilot’s license.

In late 2017, the NTSB issued its final report, determining that contributing factors to the accident included "(1) the pilot’s impairing medical conditions and medications and (2) the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) policy to not require a medical certificate for commercial balloon pilots.” The report also recommended policy changes by the FAA to improve hot air balloon safety.

Following the report, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to require hot air balloon pilots to obtain medical certifications similar to those required for helicopter and airline pilots. These tougher regulations are the direct result of the persistence of local citizens and our office in pushing federal regulators to investigate the disastrous Caldwell County crash, make policy recommendations to prevent such disasters from recurring, and working with our elected members of Congress to act on these recommendations. While this does not diminish the pain of the families who lost loved ones in the crash, we can take solace in knowing that something good has resulted from that tragedy.