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This report discusses the July 30, 2016, accident involving a Balóny Kubícek BB85Z hot air balloon, N2469L, operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, which struck power lines and crashed in a field near Lockhart, Texas. The pilot and 15 passengers died, and the balloon was destroyed by impact forces and postcrash fire. Safety issues identified in this report include the lack of medical oversight for commercial balloon pilots and the lack of targeted Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight of potentially risky commercial balloon operations. As a result of this investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board makes two safety recommendations to the FAA.
TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Remove the medical certification exemption in 14 Code of Federal Regulations 61.23(b) for pilots who are exercising their privileges as commercial balloon pilots and are receiving compensation for transporting passengers.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Open - Acceptable Response
Lockhart, TX, United States
Impact with Power Lines Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides Balóny Kubíček BB85Z, N2469L
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
FAA (Open - Acceptable Response)
Safety Recommendation History
We note that you agree with the safety benefit of this recommendation, and you have determined that adopting this recommendation will require rulemaking. Your letter stated that you will evaluate your future rulemaking agenda in light of current priorities to see where this recommendation could be included. We further note that section 318 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires that, within 180 days from enactment (by April 3, 2019), you revise 14 CFR 61.3(c) to require the same medical certification for hot air balloon pilots as for pilots of other aircraft. Pending completion of the recommended action, Safety Recommendation A-17-34 is classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Daniel K. Elwell, Acting Administrator: The 17ederal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airmen Training and Certification Branch and its General Aviation Operations Branch evaluated this recommendation and determined that adopting this recommendation would require rulemaking. The FAA agrees with the Board as to the safety benefit of this recommendation. We will continue to evaluate our future rulemaking agenda in light of current priorities to see where this recommendation could be included. While we make this determination, the f AA continues to explore non-regulatory avenues to achieve the same safety goals as the recommended action, such as supporting the Balloon Federation of America’s (BFA) Envelope of Safety program. This program, developed by the BFA’s 'Call to Action’ committee established in July 2016, seeks to improve safety and professionalism throughout the balloon ride industry. It also has the goal of providing consumers with safety culture information of specific balloon operators. Medical certification for pilots are one of the parameters for this program. and more information is available at the following website: https://www.bfa.net/index.php/cnvelopc-of-safoty-program. I will keep the Board informed of the FAA 's progress on this safety recommendation and provide an update by July 2019.
We note that you have assigned these recommendations to two teams of subject matter experts who will evaluate them. Please inform us of your planned actions after you have determined how you will address the safety issues we found in our investigation. Pending that information, Safety Recommendations A-17-34 and -45 remain classified OPEN--AWAIT RESPONSE.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assigned these recommendations to its Airmen Training and Certification Branch and its General Aviation Operations Branch, where two teams of subject matter experts will evaluate them. If the two teams come to the conclusion not to adopt one or both safety recommendations (or an alternative), we will provide a clear explanation of the rationale behind our decision. I will keep the Board informed of the FAA· s progress on these safety recommendations and provide an update by August 2018.
On October 17, 217, the NTSB adopted its report Impact with Power Lines, Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, Balóny Kubícek BB85Z, N2469L, Lockhart, Texas, July 30, 2016, AAR1703. The details of this accident investigation and the resulting safety recommendations may be found in the attached report, which can also be accessed at http://www.ntsb.gov. Among the Safety Recommendations are two issued to the Federal Aviation Administration, which can be found on page 50 of the report. The NTSB is vitally interested in these recommendations because they are designed to prevent accidents and save lives. We would appreciate a response within 90 days, detailing the actions you have taken or intend to take to implement these recommendations. When replying, please refer to the safety recommendations by number. We encourage you to submit your response to firstname.lastname@example.org. If it exceeds 10 megabytes, including attachments, please e-mail us at the same address for instructions. Please do not submit both an electronic copy and a hard copy of the same response.
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