Balloon Flights Resume in Luxor

egyptOliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, April 22, 2013

A ban on hot air balloon flights across Egypt has been lifted after nearly two months.

The sightseeing tours were halted in February following a crash in Luxor which resulted in the death of 19 tourists, including two Britons and a UK resident.

Mohamed Ibrahim Sherif, head of Egypt’s civil aviation authority, said new safety measures had been introduced, adding that five of Luxor’s seven tour operators would be allowed to operate again.

Luxor governor Ezzat Saad boarded the first flight following the end of the ban, and was joined by British, Australian and Arab tourists.

He described the flights as one of the “most important” tourist attractions in the city.

It was the second time that balloon tours were suspended in the country – in 2009 they were put on hold for six months following a series of incidents, which saw balloon operators accused of taking to the sky in unsuitable weather. The country’s aviation authority responded by setting up a dedicated balloon take-off zone, and ordered 42 pilots from eight tour operators to be retrained.

February’s tragedy occurred as a balloon carrying 20 tourists attempted to land. A fire broke out and the balloon crashed into a sugar cane field, with just one Briton and the balloons pilot surviving. Mr Sherif said investigations into the disaster were still ongoing.

The incident sparked fresh questions about the safety of the tours, with some British operators suggested that a decline in visitors to Egypt, and recent political upheaval, has seen balloon safety neglected .

The resumption of flights will be welcomed by Luxor’s hoteliers and tour operators. Earlier this Telegraph Travel reported that hotel occupancy in the city was at just 17 per cent during the Easter holidays – historically the busiest time of the year.