You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

breaking news

Travis County D.A. pursuing charges in 2013 officer-involved shooting

Deadly crash comes months after FAA rejected safety recommendations


In April 2014, the National Transportation and Safety Board warned of the potential for a “high number of fatalities in a single air tour balloon accident” if federal officials did not adopt stricter regulations of hot air balloon tour operators.

The recommendations, which the safety board said would bring balloon operators in line with the kind of oversight received by airplane and helicopter tour operators, were quickly dismissed as “unnecessary and burdensome” by the trade group Balloon Federation of America.

And in November, the Federal Aviation Administration formally rejected the safety recommendations, writing that “Since the amount of ballooning is so low, the FAA believes the risk posed to all pilots and participants is also low.”

It’s unclear whether the safety recommendations could have prevented Saturday’s catastrophic balloon crash near Lockhart, in which at least 16 people are believed to have been killed. But it seems likely that the foretold crash will renew calls for enhanced safety regulation of an industry that has experienced a number of deadly accidents in recent years.

PHOTOS: Scene of the deadliest balloon crash in U.S. history

Just three months ago, the NTSB blasted the FAA’s inaction as unacceptable. “We are concerned that, if no action is taken to address this safety issue, we will continue to see such accidents in the future,” the agency wrote in March. “Since these recommendations were issued in April 2014, an additional 25 balloon accidents have occurred, resulting in four fatalities and 25 serious injuries.”

A spokesman for the FAA said the agency was unable to immediately provide information on any accidents, incidents or enforcement actions related to Heart of Texas Balloon Rides, which operated the balloon that crashed Saturday.

National Transportation Safety Board reports from the last 15 years in Texas did not show any accidents related to Heart of Texas Balloon Rides, though not all reports identified operating companies.

The company has D-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau, with most complaints coming from frustrated customers over weather-related cancellations and disputes over refunds. Throughout the company’s responses, company officials cited the need to keep customers safe in windy or otherwise adverse conditions.

“It does take patience and persistence to go for a hot air balloon ride, as do all completely weather dependent outdoor activities,” the company wrote in November in response to a complaint. “No responsible hot air balloon ride business will ever jeopardize the passengers’ safety by flying in conditions which are unsafe. Safety is our absolute priority.”

In its 2014 letter to the FAA, the safety board found that a series of recent accidents revealed “operational deficiencies” in commercial air tour balloon operations such as operating in unfavorable wind conditions and the failure to follow flight manual procedures. The safety board said it was concerned the accidents were the “result of the current lack of oversight relative to similar airplane and helicopter air tour operations.”

THE FINAL MOMENTS: Witness says balloon was ‘barely moving’

In rejecting the NTSB’s safety recommendations, the Balloon Federation of America wrote that they would “add another layer of unnecessary federal oversight to an already challenged FAA. Such a regulation would prove burdensome to the tour flight business owners and their pilots in both time and money to comply with the regulation.”

Instead, the trade group, which did not respond to a request for comment Saturday, touted industry-led safety seminars and industry-developed safe operating guidelines.

In its rejection of the recommendations, the FAA also noted that it “regularly attends sanctioned ballooning events and performs certain oversight activities, such as checking pilot credentials and reviewing the airworthiness condition of the balloon.”

A 2013 study found that between 2000 and 2011, balloon crashes resulted in 91 serious injuries and five deaths. The study found the deaths all came after balloons hit fixed objects such as power lines and trees. The study also found that the proportion of balloon crashes attributed to paid rides appears to have increased over time.

Other reports have found that since 1964, there have been 114 fatalities from balloon crashes.

NTSB records show four balloon crashes prior to Saturday’s accident in 2016, including one incident in which a ground crew member was killed while trying to secure a basket during an unintentional liftoff in New York.

The most recent Texas crash occurred in July 2015 in Longview when a pilot aborted a landing during high winds to avoid power lines and landed in an adjacent field, breaking his hip and ankle.

The most recent fatal balloon accident in Texas occurred in 1992 in Mesquite, when a balloon hit a power line, according to an NTSB database. Two people died when the basket fell to the pavement 65 feet below.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Trump tax plan: What is the AMT, tax repatriation, the death tax?
Trump tax plan: What is the AMT, tax repatriation, the death tax?

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a proposal to drastically cut taxes for corporations and simplify the tax filing system for individuals. Companies would see a business tax rate of 15 percent, down from 35 percent, and individuals would benefit from a doubling of the standard deduction and a simplified form to fill out on tax day each...
Austin district leaders launch three new early college high schools
Austin district leaders launch three new early college high schools

The Austin school district this fall will launch three new early college high schools, giving thousands of students an opportunity to earn an associate degree while earning their high school diploma. Crockett, Eastside Memorial and Lanier will offer the program, allowing students to earn up to 60 hours of college credit. The district partners with...
Even before Trump threat, mothers and children separated at the border
Even before Trump threat, mothers and children separated at the border

Ana Mendoza, a 29-year-old Honduran immigrant, can’t erase the image from her mind: With her 10-year-old son and 12-year-old cousin in tow, she had arrived at the International Bridge in Hidalgo on Jan. 19, the day before President Donald Trump was to be inaugurated. Mendoza, fleeing gang violence in her homeland, believed the family would be...
Travis Co. DA seeks federal review of Kleinert police shooting case
Travis Co. DA seeks federal review of Kleinert police shooting case

The Travis County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday that, despite a recent setback, it will continue to pursue criminal charges against a former Austin police detective who shot an unarmed man to death in 2013. On April 20, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Criminal Appeals Fifth Circuit upheld a lower court’s dismissal...
Central Texas’ loneliest falcon might live on top of the UT Tower
Central Texas’ loneliest falcon might live on top of the UT Tower

Central Texas’ loneliest falcon might live in a wooden box on top of the UT Tower. And now we’ve taken her eggs. According to KUT, “the only peregrine falcon that lives year-round in Central Texas” lives atop the UT Tower, where she has twice laid a nest full of eggs, only to have them remain unfertilized. As the falcon...
More Stories