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Texas Hot Air Balloon Tragedy May Lead to Increased Safety Regulations

The fiery crash of a hot air balloon in central Texas that killed all 16 people on board may spur the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to adopt greater safety standards. The Wall Street Journal reports that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) considers the crash a “major event” due to the loss of life and has sent a specialized team from Washington, D.C., to investigate the crash site. Ironically, this is exactly the type of accident the NTSB was concerned about when, on April 7, 2014, the board sent a letter urging the FAA “to take action on [its] safety recommendations…derived from the NTSB’s investigations of several air tour balloon accidents.” The FAA did not take action then or in 2015, but this recent tragedy may force the agency’s hand.

The NTSB’s 2014 letter was intended to reduce accidents resulting from “deficiencies in commercial air tour balloon operations, such as operating in unfavorable wind conditions and failure to follow flight manual procedures that…are a result of the current lack of oversight relative to similar airplane and helicopter air tour operations.” The letter contained two major recommendations:

  • Require balloon operators to obtain from the FAA a letter of authorization (LOA) “that outlines operational limitations and provisions.”
  • Revise the National Flight Standards Work Program Guidelines to “encourage…inspectors to include in their general surveillance activities commercial balloon operators that hold letters of authorization.”

This would impose a level of FAA oversight from which balloon operators are now exempt. Currently, there are no FAA checks to ensure that pilots are appropriately certified or that companies maintain proper safety equipment or conduct appropriate passenger safety briefings. Under FAA scrutiny, commercial balloon operators would have to comply with safety standards or face a loss of business.

As personal injury and wrongful death attorneys, we have dealt with the aftermath of preventable tragedies. If greater oversight of hot air balloon operations would increase rider safety, we encourage the FAA to move forward on the NTSB’s recommendations. If you need legal representation for a serious accident case, contact Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia for a free consultation.