Egyptian hot air balloon pilots lack training, says expert

Ahram Online, Thursday 28 Feb 2013

Lack of independent and objective pilot assessments is a major problem in Egyptian hot air balloon sector, says Phil Dunnington, head of the British Balloon and Airship Club

A resident walks past the wreckage of a hot air balloon that crashed in Luxor February 26, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Hot air balloon pilots in Egypt have "very weak" training that is not sufficient for best practice, a British balloon expert told The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday.

A hot air balloon crashed near the Upper Egyptian city of Luxor on Tuesday, killing 19 Asian and European tourists on board.

Only the pilot and one British tourist survived when a gas cannister on the balloon exploded.

Phil Dunnington, head of the British Balloon and Airship Club, told the British paper: “One of the difficulties in Egypt is that there's no independent and objective assessment of pilot's ongoing skills. Their pilots have to do an annual test flight but they do it with someone from their own company, with someone from the Civil Aviation Authority present who has not necessarily got any expertise in balloon-specific flying."

"The CAA person is not there to judge the pilot. They just register that the test flight has taken place," Dunnington said.

Ismail Hosni, a balloon pilot who said he communicated via a Walkie-Talkie with the pilot at the time of the accident, told Al-Shorouk independent daily on Wednesday that the balloon exploded due to a human error.

The landing rope accidentally circled the gas cannisters and caused an explosion setting the balloon on fire only ten metres above the ground, Hosni said.

Hosni added he heard the pilot tell the passengers to jump with him from the balloon but only one person, the other survivor, followed.

The Egyptian government has opened an investigation into the tragedy but no reports were available yet.

Meanwhile, Japan, which lost four of its citizens in the crash, sent a team of security specialists to aid in the investigation.

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