FAA now requires commercial hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now require commercial hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates when flying paying passengers.

The final rule was issued on November 16, 2022, mandating a second-class medical certificate, the same standard required for other commercial pilots. Before the final rule was issued, it was published and opened for public comments. 

“Passengers can now rest assured that commercial balloon pilots must meet the same strict medical requirements as other commercial pilots,” acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement.

Commercial hot air balloon pilots were previously exempt from holding medical certificates. 

After a 2016 hot air balloon accident in Lockhart, Texas claimed the lives of 16 people, the FAA took proactive steps to increase the safety of hot air balloon tourism. 

Considered the deadliest hot air balloon disaster in American history, the Lockhart crash exposed dangerous gaps in the oversight of the commercial ballooning industry

As the result of a year-long FAA “Call to Action” with the commercial hot-air balloon industry, the Balloon Federation of America (BFA) developed an “Envelope of Safety” accreditation program for balloon ride operations. 

In the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, the US Congress directed the FAA to amend the medical certification standards for commercial balloon pilots. The rule also addresses a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation that the FAA remove the exemption.

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