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U.S. FAA proposes requiring balloon pilots to hold medical certificates


FILE PHOTO: A hot air balloon carrying passengers floats past a rising moon as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Cardiff, California, August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it was proposing requiring commercial hot-air-balloon pilots to hold medical certificates after a balloon crash in 2016 that was the deadliest U.S. aviation crash since 2009.

The National Transportation Safety board previously criticized the FAA in its investigation of the July 2016 Texas balloon crash that killed 16 people. A balloon hit a power line and plummeted in flames into a pasture near Lockhart, about 30 miles (50 km) south of the state capital Austin.

Investigators said the balloon pilot and owner of the balloon, who was killed in the crash, flew in weather conditions below required visual flight rule minimums and did not disclose a series of drug and alcohol related arrests dating back to 1987. He did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of the crash and had been incarcerated twice.

Balloon pilots are currently not required to obtain a pilot medical certificate, but cannot operate if they have certain medical conditions.

In 2018, Congress directed the FAA to revise the medical certification standards for commercial balloon pilots. The FAA’s proposed rule would mandate a second-class medical certificate, the same standard required for commercial pilots.

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