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December 2022


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I know this newsletter is a few days early but the clock is ticking...

Your Ballooning Christmas Gift from the FAA

It seems ironic to me that, the day after Montgolfier day (Nov, 21st) the FAA decides to introduce the new regulations on the sport I so dearly love.  New regulations that will “I believe” harm our industry in ways we cannot even begin to imagine.  The Second Class Medical requirement is now on the books and the 180 day clock is counting.  In this newsletter we will try to examine the ins and outs of this new requirement and how it applies to YOU and I.  SO HANG ON….


It seems our comments did not matter.

According to the press release there were 192 respondents to the NPRM.  The FAA broke them down as follows.  15 were considered out of scope.  17 were in favor. 112 were opposed.  142 suggested some sort of change.  So what did the FAA do?  Exactly what the NTSB recommended.  Commercial LTA pilots now must have a second class medical just like other commercial flight certificates.  They made no changes or alterations to the recommendation from the NTSB, it seems our comments made no difference at all.  Here is a direct link to the press release where you can read the entire 21 page press release.  Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 224 / Tuesday, November 22, 2022 / Rules and Regulations

It is unfortunate that the FAA felt as they were forced to make this change and it did not matter as to how many respondents there were.  They did note that two industry advocates did make strong statements against this proposed rule change.  That would have been the BFA and HAB.  I personally made 3 entries to the proposed rule from three different viewpoints.  One as the Admin for the HotAirBalloonist.com site.  One as a fellow balloonist and one as a Balloon Ride operator. 

In each of the postings I pointed out issues relative to those positions.

  • First as an industry advocate and the potential harm it will do to the industry as a whole.
  • Second as a balloonist and the hardships and additional cost if will create personally.
  • Third as a Professional Ride Operator and how that would affect the operation and costs to the guests. 

I am unsure if more respondents would have made a difference but is would have been nice to have.  I feel saddened that out of 4,869 (Page 9) we were only able to produce 192 postings.  Even less than that if you account for the fact that some of us posted more than one!  This means that only 4% stepped up to respond!  Think about that, the next time you are at a safety seminar with 100 pilots or a balloon event with 100 pilots and realize that in that room full of people, only 4 of them bothered to stand up for YOU & ME.


We don’t know how bad this will mess things up but were going to do it anyway.

Here is a paragraph directly from the press release. (page 5) “The opportunity cost (including the time and fees) of seeking a second-class medical certification for some pilots may outweigh the monetary gains of operating commercially, resulting in some pilots opting not to seek medical certification. The FAA does not have sufficient information to predict how the supply of commercial balloon pilots would change as a result of this rule.”

The FAA admits that there are pilots who COULD fly just fine but may not be able to meet the requirements or may not wish to go thru all the expense and time involved to comply and just,  more or less drop out. (page 14)

“However, the FAA expects some applicants who would have otherwise been able to operate as commercial balloon pilots may not meet the requirements of a second-class medical certification nor the requirements for a special issuance. Furthermore, the opportunity cost (including the time and fees) of seeking a second-class medical certification for some pilots may outweigh their private gains from operating commercially, resulting in some pilots opting not to seek medical certification. The FAA does not have sufficient information to predict how the supply of commercial balloon pilots would change as a result of this rule.”


There will be no Santa Clause

Apparently one of the commenters made a suggestion that the current commercial LTA operators should be exempt from the new rule.  You could call it the Old Farts Clause.  The FAA stuck in the following paragraph to make it clear that there would be no Old Farts (Santa) Clause in it for us. (page 6)

“The FAA does not consider the concept of excluding existing commercial pilot certificate holders from having to comply with a medical certificate requirement to be in the interest of flight safety. Existing commercial pilot certificate holders pose a similar medical risk to the NAS as new commercial pilot certificate holders. Such an exception for existing commercial pilots would remove this group from the safety benefit of medical certification without any additional medical risk mitigation.” 


The FAA has no evidence?

There is one paragraph that just struck me as either a huge diversion or an out and out lie.  They said the following.  “The FAA notes that, as a group, older pilots are more likely to have medical conditions that need additional evaluation. The FAA does not have evidence to support the assertion that balloon pilots are as a population older than other pilots.”  (PAGE ?

Wait… They can make estimates of the time involved and the costs of getting your second class medical, the overall industry cost (in the millions of dollars) and they cannot look at the actual records they have on file of your birth date?  Go ahead and pull out your pilot license, it has your D.O.B. right on the front!  They know how old you are and they even stated how many commercially rated LTA pilots there were in the country! (see page 9)  They can even tell you how many new commercial pilots are entering the market each year but they cannot figure out the average age of the pilot population?  Seems odd to me how they can figure out the complex things that support their actions but gathering the facts that support opposition is somehow something “The FAA does not have evidence to support”.

On page 9 they reported this.

“2021 data from the Airmen Certification database to identify pilots certificated as commercial balloon pilots. There are currently 4,869 commercial pilots with balloon class ratings. During the public comment period, the FAA learned that most insurance providers have required commercial pilots flying balloons larger than 120,000 cubic feet to hold a second-class medical certificate. FAA sources indicate that of the 4,869 commercial pilots with balloon class ratings, 427 balloon pilots (approximately 8.8% of total commercial balloon pilots) fall into this category.20 Therefore, the updated estimated number of balloon pilots without medical certification in 2021 is 4,442”.

The FAA did not divulge how many LTA pilots do indeed have a second class medical.  I had hoped that they would have released that information since I am sure they have that data.


The Clock is ticking!

So when do I need to accomplish my medical?  Well, according to the press release (Page ?

The FAA proposed in the NPRM that compliance with the medical certificate requirement become effective 180 days from publication of the final rule. This would provide sufficient time for the majority of affected persons to comply with this rule by obtaining a medical certificate prior to the effective date. For reasons explained below, the medical certificate requirement will go into effect on May 22, 2023, 180 days after publication of this rule.” 

So May 22nd 2023 is the date!  So the next question is how do I get this done?


Where do I go?

Several months ago I went to this link online and it did not work.  I recently returned to the site and this time it seemed to work just fine.  Here is the link where you can find a local AME where you can make an appointment to get your exam.


Here is a link to the FAA pages that explain the requirements for a “Second Class Medical”  It is a good idea to look over the list and identify any issues BEFORE you go in for your medical so you have an idea of what you will be asked.

CFR 14 - FAA Second Class Medical FAR 67 “Subpart C”


What is involved?

The first thing you need to do is set up an account with the online MedXPress form.  Using your email and a password you can set up an account.  Then fill in the online form.  Once complete you will need to set up an appointment with an AME.  They will review the online application and then preform your exam.  Sounds simple right?... 

(From page 10) “To obtain a second-class medical certificate, an applicant needs to complete the MedXPress form and a medical exam with an AME. Because the second-class medical certificate expires 12 months after the date of the medical exam, the FAA assumes that pilots incur these costs on an annual basis. The FAA estimates the opportunity cost of time for each applicant would include 1.5 hours to complete the MedXPress form, 1 hour for the medical examination, and 1 hour of travel time to and from the exam for a total of 3.5 hours.”

Here is a link to the MedXPress form.  The information required is quite comprehensive so get started right away.  Bear in mind that you will need any and all medications you are taking and all the doctor visits you have made over the last 3 years!  Here are some of the questions you will be asked. 






Depending on the medications you are on and the number of doctor visits you have made in the last three years it may take some time and effort to complete the MedXPress form.  Start to make your list before you log into the MedXPress Form.


Can someone pass me a SODA?

So you think there is a problem?  You may be able to get an exception.  It is called a SODA (see page 7) “Statement of Demonstrated Ability”.  Here is A LINK where you can go to read more about what a SODA is and how it applies to your Second Class Medical.    


How does this affect a balloon event?

This is a question that may take an entire newsletter to answer!  I have sent an email to the FAA asking for clarification on a few issues, primarily flying banners and or sponsors, but here is what I know so far. 

If you fly a special shape balloon and are paid to fly at a balloon event that IS a commercial operation, however, if you put the balloon up and stay on the ground it is NOT considered a commercial operation. (see footnote #10 page 4) 

A pilot (commercial or private) may also be compensated for attending a balloon event and not be required to have a second class medical (also footnote #10 page 4) (See also Comstock-77) That is why many events have what they call “Show Up Money”.  At the time of this righting I am still waiting to hear back about flying sponsors at a balloon event and flying banners for event sponsors.  My thoughts are this; if you fly a banner on your balloon but receive no extra compensation then it would hard to prove that to be a commercial flight operation.  I believe the same could be said for flying sponsors at a balloon event.  If you are not required to fly sponsors and/or do not receive any extra compensation beyond what all the other pilots are receiving then it would be difficult to consider that a commercial flight operation. If you do fly a banner and you are paid extra to fly that banner then you are a commercial flight operation and you need to have a second class medical.


The Nail in my coffin

While I have always hoped that I could return to some form of commercial flying this new requirement pretty much ends my passenger flying days.  I hate to admit it but if I had paid closer attention to my medical conditions I may not have had the hemorrhagic stroke that ended my flying.  I have made a few flights and did get a flight review this year in August so at least I have that in my log book!  It is possible that I could do some flight instruction possibly next spring after my son Noah is done with his cancer treatments for Leukemia.  For those of you out there who are still flying, please take care, fly safe, STAY HEALTHY and

Thank you for all you do for the Balloon World.




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Jeff A Thompson.  Admin@HotAirBalloonist.com 407-421-9322

44 year LTA pilot, BFA member since 1977, BFA Level DA-8, Ed Yost Master Pilot. 6500 flights, 5650 Flight Hours

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