Pilot in Fatal Hot Air Balloon Crash Had Long History of DUI
A driver convicted of multiple counts of DUI in Los Angeles would not meet the medical requirements for a license to pilot a plane or a helicopter. Yet the Federal Aviation Administration has no such restrictions when it comes to approving a license to pilot a hot air balloon. Could this loophole in the balloon regulations have contributed to the hot air balloon accident in Texas that claimed 16 lives on July 30th?
The Washington Post reported that Alfred G. “Skip” Nichols had at least four DUI convictions in Missouri in the last 26 years: one in 1990, two in 2002 and another in 2010. He also served time in jail for a drug crime.
A report from NBC Nightly News said that multiple convictions for DUI would most likely have prevented Nichols from getting the medical certificate required to get a license to fly solo in an aircraft. But pilots of balloons and gliders don’t have to provide that medical certificate for their pilots’ licenses. The NBC story said that all that is required is for prospective pilots to provide a statement certifying that they have no medical defect that would make them unable to pilot such an aircraft.
The network also reported that at least one Missouri Court had ruled that Nichols should not get his driver’s license back until 2020. But a long-time friend of the pilot, who was one of those killed in the crash, said Nichols had gotten his substance abuse issues under control and had been sober for four years.
California Vehicle Code 23622 calls for harsher penalties for those who have multiple DUI offenses within a 10-year period. For a first offense, you may face up to six months in jail and lose your license for six to 10 months (but you can get a restricted license for driving to work). For fourth-time offenders, the penalties can go up to three years in state prison and a four-year loss of license if police charge them with a felony DUI.
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