Malaysia's Chinese community leaders are incensed over the sudden ban on airborne red lanterns traditionally released as part of Lunar New Year celebrations. The man-sized lanterns are propelled into the night sky by burning wax or kerosene and fall to the ground after the fuel burns out, much like hot-air balloons. Tradition has it that the lanterns guide lost souls to heaven. However, thanks to popular television culture, young people now use the lanterns as floating love letters - writing the name of the object of their affection on the rice paper and asking divine help to make the match happen. The lanterns became a hotly debated issue when a dozen ended up on the runway of the international airport on Penang Island, a popular tourist destination, and forced airport authorities to divert several flights. The government initially permitted the release of the lanterns away from the airport and banned planes from flying over areas where airborne lanterns were allowed. However, the authorities abruptly changed tact and imposed a total ban, arguing that the danger far outweighed cultural tradition. They said the lanterns, which could float up to 1.8km, could cause planes to explode midair if sucked in by aircraft engines. Police said drifting lanterns could also set fire to houses, petrol stations, forests, fuel depots and ammunition dumps. They added that Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have banned the lanterns for similar reasons. But businessmen and culture buffs say the ban is yet another 'insensitive and knee-jerk reaction' to a complex cultural issue. Chinese community leaders have appealed against the ruling, saying it violates the principle of cultural tolerance - a cornerstone of Malaysia's multi-racial society. Business leaders also worry that the ban will affect tourist arrivals from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, many say the lanterns will likely follow the fate of firecrackers, which are also officially banned but easily available and openly used to herald the new year.