NTSB warned FAA on tightening regulations for operators of balloon tours

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(KPLR) - Skip Nichols has been identified as the man piloting the hot air balloon that crashed in Texas over the weekend, killing everyone on board.  Nichols spent years operating Air Balloon Sports in Valley Park before moving to Texas.  His friend and former co-worker, Wendy Bartch, says he was always very careful.

"Setting the balloon up, taking the balloon down, there`s a lot of work that goes into it" Bartch said.  "Especially with the safety part of it.  That was the beginning of every flight" she said.

The ongoing investigation has not yet revealed the cause of the crash, but now there are new questions on how balloon operators are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the FAA implement tighter regulations for the operators of balloon tours.  In her recommendation, Chairwoman Debbie Hersman noted that balloon operators were not held to the same regulations as airplane or helicopter tour pilots.

Hersman also noted that if tighter regulations weren't implemented, she feared a "high number of fatalities" from a single flight event.

The FAA rejected those recommendations.

"That goes back to I think the issue of oversight of commercial balloon operators" said Robert Sumwalt with the NTSB. "We do not feel that the FAA's response was acceptable".

It may take a year for the NTSB to complete their investigation, but family and friends of the victims are left remembering the ones they lost.

"He was well known because he would help people" said Bartch.  "If you needed anything, he would give it" she said.

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