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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Much hot air over balloon festival

Organiser says they have been holding the festival without any problems and even the nearby Penang Hospital had no complaints.
GEORGE TOWN: Criticised repeatedly for holding the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta next to Penang Hospital, organiser AKA Balloon said it had not received complaints from the hospital.
AKA Balloon chief executive officer Nur Izzati Khairudin said the hospital was consulted on the venue and hospital representatives were present at all technical meetings held to discuss traffic issues.
Representatives of various authorities also attended these meetings to discuss how to hold the event smoothly on Padang Polo, opposite the hospital, she said.
“Based on last year’s event, there were no complaints sent to us and everything went according to plan,” she told FMT in a WhatsApp message.
The fiesta will be held for the third year on Padang Polo this weekend.
Drawing large crowds, it has become one of Penang’s top annual tourism events.
Yesterday, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) called on the public to boycott the event. Its president, SM Mohamed Idris, questioned the timing of the event during Chinese New Year and mere days before Thaipusam, two cultural festivals that draw large numbers of visitors to Penang.
“There is already a lot of traffic congestion with the two festivals being so close. Holding the hot air balloon fiesta on Feb 4 and 5 is only adding to the congestion and causing inconvenience to residents.”
Idris also said the location was inappropriate due to its proximity to the Penang Hospital, which raises concerns of blocked access and inconvenience to hospital patients and visitors.
He said that “tourism cannot supersede the needs of residents and patients”.
He said even in the US, hot air ballooning was a “loosely regulated industry”.
Citing a US report, Idris said there had been 760 hot air balloon accidents there that had killed 73 and injured 967 people since 1964.
Last week, Penang MCA also protested the use of Padang Polo as the fiesta venue.
Izzati, however, said the organiser had “successfully overcome the traffic congestion since last year” after six nearby schools allowed cars to be parked in their compounds during the event.
Shuttle services at 30-minute intervals to Padang Polo were provided for visitors who parked there from 7am to 10pm.
“This year, we are taking the same steps. The public is well aware of the transport support provided,” Izzati said.
She said AKA Balloon had always worked closely with the police, Fire and Rescue Department, People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) and other authorities to ensure traffic flow was smooth around Padang Polo and the event was conducted safely.
On safety concerns, Izzati said there had been no recorded hot air balloon accidents since 1994 locally because of strict safety measures and experienced pilots.
“Safety is of utmost priority. We have carefully selected international pilots with the most experience and no accident records.”
Penang Hospital declined to comment. -FMT

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