Explaining regulations in place for hot-air balloon operators

Posted at 9:56 PM, May 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-13 01:30:20-04

RUTHER GLEN, Va. (WTVR) -- One-hundred fourteen people have died in balloon crashes in the U.S. over the past 50 years, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

In the past 15 years, all of the fatal crashes have involved balloons colliding with power lines, trees, or buildings.

Just last month, the NTSB said they were concerned about what they called the number of recurring balloon accidents, and they recommended the FAA come up with new regulations for hot air balloons.

The NTSB wants the FAA to ramp up its regulations on balloon companies that carry 10 or more passengers in one balloon, but, those changes would not have impacted Friday’s event because those balloons carried a much smaller number of passengers.

Retired balloon pilot Charlotte Ragsdale said power lines, like the ones hit in Friday’s accident, pose the largest threat to balloon operators.

“Everyone's afraid of power lines…sometimes they're invisible,” Ragsdale said.

Ragsdale said it’s very possible Captain Dan Kirk did not see the power lines he hit.

A spokesperson from the Balloon Federation of America tells CBS 6 Kirk passed over a set of power lines on one side of a line of trees, and would not have expected more power lines on the other side of those trees.

“No matter how talented, how many hours, a freak accident can just happen,” Ragsdale said.

But, even after Friday’s accident, Ragsdale said she has no qualms about flying again.

“People are so amazed when you fly by,” Ragsdale said.

Ragsdale said the hot air balloon industry is strictly regulated by the FAA.

According to the Balloon Federation of America, all commercial pilots must have at least 35 hours of training, complete two flights as a pilot in command, and pass a series of tests.

“They actually take you a mile up in the air, you shut your systems off, you let it free fall, and then you show you can recover the system,” Ragsdale said.

A pilot’s equipment must be inspected every 100 hours or once a year, whichever comes first.

A spokesperson from the Balloon Federation of America said fire extinguishers are required on all hot air balloons, but former pilots said they would not have made any difference on this flight because the explosion and fire happened so quickly there would not have been time to use one.