BFA brings standards to Hot Air Ballooning
FAA acknowledges its value
Unlike much of aviation safety, the FAA and the hot air balloon have been in a reactive mode, especially since the tragic 2016 Texas fatal crash. Unfortunately, the media accounts of that horrible event were uneven in their accuracy and as a result, the future of ballooning was put in doubt. The NTSB did its normally thorough and insightful investigation and is formulating its report (which may include recommendations beyond this action).
The Balloon Federation of America (BFA) sent representatives to meet with John Duncan, FAA Director of Flight Standards. That discussion began a process with the goal of setting standards defining a level of safety upon which the public could rely. About a year ago, BFA delivered to the FAA an action plan. Perhaps the most important element of that set of tasks was the creation of a best practices standard.
Based on collaboration among the BFA, the FAA, state licensing authorities, insurance carriers and others, a program has been initiated. The requirements for safe operations established this informal group should provide consumers with criteria with which to assess a hot air balloon operator. It’s called the “Envelope of Safety”
Here are some of these industry standards:
- company pilots of balloons that are capable of carrying more than 4-6 passengers
- must be commercially certificated for 18 months,
- have a specified amount of flight experience, and hold an FAA second-class medical certificate.
- must pass a drug and alcohol background check,
- must have attended a BFA-sanctioned safety seminar within the last 12 months,
- must be enrolled in the FAA WINGS
- The BFA will verify this information annually, and will check the safety background of pilot applicants by researching FAA accident and incident data.
- A second part of the program provides balloon ride operators with a choice of three levels of safety accreditation:
While any size company can achieve the highest level, the tiered structure is designed with different size companies in mind. Each level has increasingly stringent safety requirements including:
- Meeting the pilot requirements
- Holding valid aircraft and commercial vehicle insurance
- Not exceeding a minimum specified number of accidents or incidents within a recent time period
- Verifying annual aircraft inspections
- Hosting a forum for passengers to rate the company
- Notifying local FAA offices of the location of their base of operations
- Executing and storing passenger liability waivers
- Conducting random pilot drug screening
- Developing written policies for crew safety.
The FAA believes the BFA program will enhance safety and professionalism, and will allow consumers to be better informed before they choose a commercial balloon ride operator.
For anyone who as a pilot or as a passenger of one of these cloud like vehicles, this is indeed good news—accreditation by BFA will provide a “good housekeeping” style emblem in selecting an operator. The reliability of the BFA silver, gold of platinum seal will depend 1000% on the association’s quality control of its members as well as those who do not pay their BFA dues.
The efficacy of the “Envelope of Safety” will be proved in the near term. If the record is inadequate, the FAA will have to find a way to more vigorously surveil this aviation activity. Given its scare resources, that will be a challenge.
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