An Error in Hiring Judgment? Hot Air Balloon Pilot Had Prior Alcohol Problems

Hot Air BalloonThe FAA has enacted numerous rules and regulations to ensure that aviation pilots are not under the influence of alcohol when flying aircraft including requiring DUI actions be reported within 60 days (FAR 61.15(e)), enforcement actions against certificates for two DUIs in three years (FAR 61.15(d)), and the 8 hour bottle-to-throttle rule to prevent pilots from drinking shortly before takeoff (FAR 91.17). Simply stated, the FAA does not want pilots with drinking problems to be flying planes. Doing so would put all passengers and the pilot at risk due to impaired judgment and reflexes.

Recent news has been reported by multiple outlets including CNN that has revealed the pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols, involved in the hot air balloon crash that killed all 16 people on board in Texas had a checkered history. His driver’s license had been suspended twice due to alcohol and drug convictions. It has also been reported that he had been convicted of drunk driving 4 times previously. Yet he did not have to inform the FAA of these convictions because of a lack of oversight for hot air balloons. Pilots applying for a ballooning certificate only have to disclose drug convictions, not alcohol related problems.

If Mr. Nichols had been a pilot that sought to fly airplanes, the FAA would have likely never let him fly. At this time, there is no evidence at this time to suggest alcohol or drugs played a direct role in the hot air balloon crash in Texas. Nevertheless, this recent news development further illustrates the need for more oversight and regulation of hot air balloon pilots and companies

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