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Pilots pushing for uniform balloon safety requirements

Caleb James
October 13, 2017 06:29 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The world knows Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta as a colorful glimpse into a fantasy world. It's nine days of glorious colors and breathtaking views.

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But for balloonists from across the country, Albuquerque is the industry's nerve center where major decisions and policies are made. 

The Balloon Federation of America meets in the Land of Enchantment each year during Fiesta, and the industry is still reeling from modern ballooning's most tragic accident. Fifteen people were killed in Texas in 2016.

On Friday, leaders made an aggressive push for uniform safety requirements across the country. 

"This is Mecca for the ballooning community, so there's no better place to have a board meeting," said BFA's Professional Ride Operators board member Matt McClinton. 

Think of the federation as the U.S. Congress, only for balloonists. Pilots from around the country meet in Albuquerque to make big decisions for the industry. 

This year, the community is still picking up the pieces from 2016's tragic crash in Lockhardt, Texas, where a balloon got tangled with power-lines and 15 people died.

"This organization, the professional ride operators, has really sought to work with the FAA and the NTSB following Lockhardt to make solutions that are going to protect consumers," McClinton said. 

There are already laws, of course, but the organization is taking safety a step beyond. 

Under development right now, the "Envelope of Safety" program will establish a rating system for balloon tour companies. There are different ratings: silver, gold, or platinum depending on how well the company meets safety standards like drug testing and insurance minimums to requiring companies to hold documented safety protocol. It's a way to know for sure if your trip will be worry-free. 

"The majority of the operators are very, very good," McClinton said. "But we're going to ensure that we're all on the same page and working on new and productive ways to become safer and make sure that experience is enjoyable for everybody."

The program is currently in development. It will be presented to the federal officials through the FAA before it's officially launched. 

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Caleb James

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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