Peter Forster: ‘Every country has its own safety body and some may be more stringent than others’

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

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IT WILL be many months before it is entirely clear what happened in Luxor yesterday, but what is obvious is that there has been an equipment failure of some kind.

Balloons are full of hot air and propane fuel heats the air to keep it up. They’re not full of hydrogen, so it’s not the balloon that would have exploded – the fuel in the tank would have been released and then ignited.

There is also a braided hose which feeds into the cylinders, so either the hose has been severed somehow, or the tank has burst.

It is worth emphasising that if a hot air balloon is handled well and in good condition it is entirely safe. But there has been a history of accidents in Egypt to the point where the authorities suspended trips for six months in 2009 because of concerns over safety standards.

You don’t just get three major accidents, as in 2009. In the UK you have occasionally someone with a broken ankle, not multiple casualties in the tragedy we have seen here.

Ballooning has certainly expanded greatly in Egypt and Turkey and that brings challenges. Every country has its own safety regulatory body and some may be more stringent than others.

It is the same as if you were to do go scuba diving in the UK or abroad you might want to look into the company safety record and their standards.

Here in the UK, all companies have an Air Operator’s Certificate, which is exactly the same certificate that British Airways and easyJet have to fly a plane. We are heavily regulated and that really is reflected in the statistics.

Around 70,000-80,000 people in the UK take commercial hot air balloon trips every year. There has only been one fatality in 25 years, a woman who fell from a basket in Hull in 1997. Our firm, for example, has carried 7,500 passengers without incident.

All pilots are inspected every year by examiners and all the balloon equipment is inspected every year. This has maintained a very high level of standards and in the UK any black sheep would soon be found out.

I’m no expert on the industry in Egypt, but we know they are in turmoil politically and there have been issues in recent years.

I have a colleague from another balloon operator in Scotland who returned from Turkey just recently and had really serious concerns about the way ballooning was run.

However, that’s not to suggest that other countries all have lower standards though. Colleagues of mine have worked in the ballooning industry in Burma, for example, and say that the standards there are excellent.

• Peter Forster has run Midlothian-based Alba Ballooning for 14 years and operates tours in Scotland and northern England.

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