NTSB calls for more oversight of balloon operators

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A month before a deadly hot air balloon accident in Virginia that claimed the life of a Buffalo grad, the National Transportation Safety Board expressed concern about commercial sightseeing balloon accidents, and recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration step up regulatory oversight.

Based on the investigations of several “air tour” balloon accidents, the NTSB recommends that operators be required by the FAA to “obtain and maintain” a Letter of Authorization, and undergo checks to verify that pilots are appropriately certified, among other things.

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“Commercial balloon operators would be motivated to comply with the provisions in their LOA’s knowing that an enforcement action, including suspending or revoking an LOA, could result in the loss of business,” according to the April 7 safety recommendation.

In response, the Balloon Federation of America, a trade association, calls the recommendation unnecessary and burdensome.

“Every commercial pilot is already registered with the FAA because they have to be, because they’re issued a commercial airman’s certificate,” BFA President Sam Parks tells News 4. “So, this additional Letter of Authorization, again, we felt like was redundant and it wouldn’t add to any safety.”

But the NTSB believes that “air tour” balloon operators should be subject to “greater regulatory oversight.”

In making the recommendation to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, the NTSB concludes that “passengers who hire air tour balloon operators should have the benefit of a similar level of safety oversight as passengers of air tour airplane and helicopter operations.”

Sam Parks says BFA stands ready to work in partnership with the FAA and NTSB on programs that he says will achieve enhanced safety.

“The BFA has long held that safety education and training is a constant priority not just for tour ride operators but also for all balloon pilots and crew,” according to a statement released by BFA last month.

Parks says he wants to stress that BFA’s response is directly related to the NTSB safety recommendation involving commercial sightseeing balloon operations issued last month, and not the deadly hot-air balloon crash in Virginia over the weekend.

“The tragic accident that happened this past weekend was not even a commercial operation, Parks says.

“This particular pilot did not sell this particular ride. It was a ride to where he provided a free ride to a couple of VIPs that were there at the festival,” he added.

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