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Balloon chief: my history is irrelevant

The chief pilot of the company involved in the fatal crash in Al Ain yesterday was twice convicted of breaching safety standards while running a ballooning company in New Zealand, including an incident in which three tourists died.

The chief pilot of the company involved in the fatal crash in Al Ain yesterday was twice convicted of breaching safety standards while running a ballooning company in New Zealand, including an incident in which three tourists died.

Peter Kollar, a director of Balloon Adventures Emirates, left New Zealand claiming he was the victim of a "vendetta" by New Zealand aviation authorities following that nation's worst ballooning accident, in 1995.

Records released by New Zealand's civil aviation authority state that Mr Kollar's company had been the subject of 15 official complaints over a 12-year period to 2003, most of which came after the triple fatality.

These including flying in fog, clipping power lines and making unscheduled landings in the middle of suburban streets in the city of Christchurch.

In an interview in October, Mr Kollar said he could not remember in which of those incidents he was the pilot, but granted that he was in command for several of them.

After the fatal accident in 1995, Mr Kollar was prosecuted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and pleaded guilty to flying in circumstances in which avoidable danger to life or property was likely.

He was eventually convicted of compromising safety while on another commercial balloon flight, and his company, Up Up And Away, was convicted of deliberately obstructing and impeding an investigation into that flight.

A Japanese man on his honeymoon was one of those who died when the balloon piloted by Kollar was blown offshore; the man's wife survived.

Mr Kollar said that Balloon Adventures Emirates, which runs the www.ballooning.ae website and also advertises itself as Balloon Adventures Dubai, began seeking permits to start the Dubai-based company in 2003-2004, although he was not directly involved.

Mr Kollar said that he had never denied or hidden his New Zealand flying history and did not believe it was pertinent to the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority's decision to authorise the company to operate commercial balloon flights or to give him a UAE commercial pilot's licence, which he applied for in 2005 on the basis of his equivalent New Zealand licence.

"It's completely irrelevant," he said of his issues in New Zealand. "We have a proper application, properly applied for."

A spokesman for the New Zealand aviation authority, Bill Sommer, said there had been no request from the UAE for details about Mr Kollar's flying history.

Mr Kollar added: "I have a valid New Zealand licence. I can go tomorrow to New Zealand and fly with no restrictions whatever. I've always had a valid New Zealand licence. My licence hasn't been taken away."

Mr Kollar had contested the civil aviation charges in the initial prosecution over the 1995 triple-fatality but was found guilty and fined in the Christchurch District Court.

The conviction was overturned on appeal in the High Court in Christchurch, and he later pleaded guilty to an amended charge brought by the CAA. He was fined NZ$900 (Dh2,440), ordered to pay a total of NZ$3,000 in reparations to the victims' families and was disqualified from flying for two months.

In May 2004, after the process to establish Balloon Adventures Emirates was under way, Mr Kollar pleaded guilty in New Zealand to another safety charge for flying in cloudy conditions while on a commercial balloon flight in April 2003.

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