Egypt balloon tragedy

Egyptian balloon operators could be back in business this week

Governor of Luxor says pressure is growing to resume dawn flights despite disaster because the Egyptian city depends on tourism dollars

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 4:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 5:14am

Operators of hot-air balloons in Luxor may restart their trips this week despite ongoing investigations into the accident that killed nine Hongkongers and 10 other tourists on Tuesday.

The governor of Luxor said pressure was mounting on authorities to restart the dawn flights because the city depended on tourism.

Since the 2011 revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak, Luxor had been hard hit by reduced visitor numbers and the balloon tragedy was set to cripple business further, governor Ezzat Saad told the Sunday Morning Post yesterday.

"Many balloon companies say they meet all the technical requirements, so why are they prevented from operating?" Saad said. "We are paying for the political upheaval and the big demonstrations taking place in Cairo because outsiders think Egypt is just Cairo.

"But Luxor is a very safe place. That's why the balloon companies asked for a review of the decision concerning the freezing of their business until the outcome of the investigation."

Saad was preparing to meet relatives of the Hong Kong victims for rituals to be conducted at the crash site.

He grounded all hot-air balloons over the ancient temple city of Luxor, 600 kilometres south of Cairo, immediately after the accident.

The possibility of reopening the skies follows Xinhua reports that flights would resume soon.

Saad said the investigation would take about two weeks and the only person with the power to restart flights was the civil aviation minister.

Travel agency representative Mohamed Kinawy  lashed out at the licensing system for pilots, saying it was open to bribery.

According to balloon operators, all budding pilots must complete six months of training with a veteran pilot, pass a written exam and accumulate a minimum number of hours of solo flying before getting a licence.

Kinawy said the system was flawed because a veteran pilot had the power to dish out licences to anyone.

"He can give a licence to his son," Kinawy said, adding that aviation authorities who were meant to be supervising the licensing usually "sit in hotels and do nothing".

Alla El Din Mahmoud, sales director of Magic Horizon Balloons, which has eight pilots and 12 balloons, said a commercial balloon pilot needed to chalk up 100 to 270 hours of solo flying, depending on the capacity of the balloon. But some companies trained pilots for just a few days, well below the legal requirement.