FAA taking steps to tighten requirements for commercial hot air balloon pilots

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Federal Aviation Administration is taking steps to tighten up on requirements for commercial hot air balloon pilots. The FAA is pushing to require hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates when taking paying passengers on flights and operating for hire. 

The proposed rule change would hold commercial hot air balloon pilots at the same standard required for commercial pilots. This could impact passenger companies like Rainbow Ryders.

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U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett weighs in on the proposed rule change saying, “we want to be sure that each of those operators does not have a long history of drug and alcohol abuse as happened in both the Lockhart and Albuquerque tragedies.”

However, commercial hot air balloon pilot Glenn Thomas isn’t convinced the new rule change will solve any issues. He has a different idea instead. “I think they should urinalysis and hair follicles that prove to our passengers and our community that we don’t do drugs.”

Thomas witnessed the deadly balloon crash that shook the city of Albuquerque in June and took the lives of five people, including the pilot. He recalls, “That was pretty traumatic when I saw the balloon go up in the air with the envelope by itself, I knew…whatever happened was not good.”

In both the Lockhart and Albuquerque crashes, toxicology reports show drugs were present in the pilots’ system. That’s why Thomas wants to see the FAA implement drug tests.  He shares, “It’s a privilege to have a pilot’s license. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. I think the FAA should require it because that’s what happened both times.” Thomas completes voluntary drug tests and encourages other commercial pilots to do the same. 

The Federal Aviation Administration will publish the draft rule in the federal register this month. The public will have 60 days to comment. The FAA will review all comments before making a final ruling. 

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