FAA Proposes New Hot Air Balloon Pilot Rule

Under the proposal, commercial hot air balloon pilots would need to hold a second-class medical certificate.

For-hire hot air balloon pilots could soon need to hold the same medical certificate as a commercial pilot to do their job.

The FAA proposed a new rule Tuesday that would end current exemptions and require commercial balloon pilots hold a second-class medical certificate.

“Balloon pilots are responsible for the safety of their passengers,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. “This proposed rule would ensure that balloon pilots meet the same medical requirements as pilots of other commercial aircraft.”

The rule is expected to impact an estimated 356 operators, the FAA said. While the FAA does not have a database of commercial balloon operators, it said there are nearly 5,000 hot air balloons registered with the agency and about 4,870 commercial pilots hold balloon ratings.

The commercial balloon industry estimates it conducts 100,000 to 250,000 passenger rides each year, the FAA said.

The proposed rulemaking follows a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation that the exemption be removed, as well as a congressional directive to revise medical certification standards for commercial balloon pilots, FAA said.

“The benefits of the proposed rule include enhanced safety of commercial balloon operations through reduced risks of accidents, fatalities, and injuries caused by medical impairment of balloon pilots,” the proposed rule said.

In recent years, the FAA partnered with the Balloon Federation of America (BFA) on an accreditation program, which included voluntary standards for commercial balloon operators and pilots.

Later this month, the FAA is expected to publish a draft rule in the Federal Register, which will launch a 60-day public comment period. “After the comment period closes, the FAA will review all comments before publishing a final rule,” the administration said.

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