Hot-air balloonists could face stricter regulations


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Hot-air balloonists could be facing stricter regulations after the deadly hot-air balloon crash that killed 15 people and a pilot last month in Lockhart, Texas.

As the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta approaches, it has people wondering about the safety of the sport. However, Fiesta organizers said attendees, passengers and pilots have nothing to worry about.

“We have a series of checks and balances that we make sure we have the right pilots, and the best pilots, flying out of Balloon Fiesta,” said Tom Garrity, a spokesperson for the Balloon Fiesta.

The series of checks and balances also requires pilots to show their FAA certifications and records. Pilots also need to be able to answer how many times they have flown above 5,000 feet and number of flight hours. All of this is part of the current FAA regulations.

Fiesta officials said they keep in close contact with the FAA and believe any changes or new regulations would not disqualify any of Fiesta’s pilots from flying at the event, including recreational pilots.

Local pilot, Beth Wright-Smith isn’t worried about what may be coming.

“For what the majority of balloonists do, I don’t think the new regulations will have any effect whatsoever,” she said.

Smith has been flying for about 35 years and said the deadly incident in Texas shouldn’t deter people from flying, but should encourage people to do their research.

“Whether you’re flying with someone that does occasional rides or if you’re flying with a ride operator that does it on a regular basis, you can check out the pilots and the companies in advance and find out what kind of a reputation they have,” she said.

One thing that has been discussed is how airline pilots need to undergo background checks and medical checkups but balloon pilots don’t. There is no word on when the FAA could announce any changes.

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