Tour operator Thomas Cook has defended its Egypt balloon trip arrangements amid safety concerns following this week's Luxor disaster which claimed 19 lives.
Thomas Cook had been continuing to use Sky Cruises, the company involved in Tuesday's crash and which was also involved in a balloon crash into the Nile in October 2011.
Tuesday's flight, in which three Britons were killed, was booked with Sky Cruises by a ground agent, Bright Sky Travel, which Thomas Cook contracts to provide various excursions in Egypt.
It has been revealed that other balloon owners operating in the area were claiming that Bright Sky Travel had a reputation for maximising its margins and starving them of cash. The Times reported that after the Nile accident in October 2011, in which everyone survived, a video was produced saying: "So be warned if you take a wonderful balloon flight in Luxor."
Thomas Cook said it insisted that local companies offering balloon trips were fully licensed by Egypt's aviation authority. The company added that Sky Cruises had been "verified and approved by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority".
London-based artists Joe Bampton, 40, and his partner, Suzanna Gyetvai, 34, were killed in Tuesday's tragedy in which the balloon exploded and crashed to the ground in flames. Yvonne Rennie, 48, from Perth in Scotland, also died. Her husband, Michael, 49, survived, as did the balloon's Egyptian pilot.
Ala Mahmoud, head of Egyptian balloon company Magic Horizon, accused Thomas Cook of "not being professional" in its dealings with Bright Sky.
He told the Independent newspaper that when Thomas Cook hired Bright Sky as its agent three years ago, his company had been invited to bid for a contract to provide balloon flights over Luxor. He refused after being offered the equivalent of £35 for every £70 ticket. Mr Mahmoud said: "The problem is they are taking so much money. It means the balloon company may not be looking for safety or quality, they are just looking for quantity."
Thomas Cook said that Tuesday's balloon ride had not been booked as part of a package holiday but had been booked with Sky Cruises by Bright Sky Travel.
A Thomas Cook spokesman went on: "We can assure our customers that we insist that the local companies which offer hot air balloon excursions to our guests in Luxor are fully licensed by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). In this tragic case, the operator was Sky Cruises, which had been verified and approved by the Egyptian CAA. We, like all other major tour operators, rely upon this endorsement by the Egyptian CAA and it is reasonable for us to do so as we rely on their expertise."