Request For More Safety Regulation in Response to Virginia Balloon Crash
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called for more rigorous safety regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration in regards to hot-air balloon travel. The call-to-action is in response to a fatal balloon crash that occurred this past May, which resulted in three deaths.
The crash happened at a Virginia balloon festival, where Virginia State Police reported that the 65-year-old pilot fought to keep the balloon from crashing after it struck a power line and burst into flames. The balloon crashed with pilot Kirk Daniel and two recent University of Richmond graduates on board.
A month ago, the NTSB noted the number of safety issues in balloon crashes, stating they were concerned about “the number of recurring accidents.” According to the NTSB database, balloon crashes have been responsible for 114 deaths in 67 crashes since 1964 in the United States. In addition, a recent government-funded study found that, of five deaths reported from commercial flight crashes from 2000 to 2011, all five deaths were a result of crashing into trees, power lines, or buildings, much like the incident in Virginia.
The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, calling on the FAA to regulate hot-air balloons carrying passengers the same way as they regulate other modes of air travel, stating 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.”
The letter goes on to cite several incidents of dangerous and unregulated balloon flights, which resulted in injuries and deaths. The NTSB noted that, while balloon pilots are required to have certification and their balloons inspected regularly, recent studies have shown a lack of checks and inspections.
The lack of regulations resulted in “operational deficiencies,” which translates to balloons taking flight in risky weather, or flights that were not in accordance with the flight manual. The NTSB is especially concerned about the fact that balloons can carry more than 20 passengers at a time, citing a major crash in Egypt last year where 19 of the 21 passengers died.
The deadliest hot-air balloon crash in the United States occurred in Colorado in 1993. A sudden change in wind speed and direction caused the balloon to crash into a power line, causing the basket to disconnect from the balloon. Six people aboard died. The NTSB has found that, of the 67 balloon-crashes investigated, 11 of them involved 3 or more deaths.
In their letter, the National Transportation Safety Board requested a reply by July, stating, “the NTSB is vitally interested in these [safety] recommendations because they are designed to prevent accidents and save lives.” The Balloon Federation of America issued a statement saying that the industry’s regulation is already sufficient, and that the FAA has enough responsibilities already.
The FAA also declined to hear the NTSB out, stating, “the accidents cited by the NTSB were the result of human factors and this recommendation does not address this causal link and therefore will not enhance safety.” Both the NTSB and the FAA are investigating the details of the Virginia crash.