Sunday 18 March 2018

It's safe to resume flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, British PM is told

Egypt travel updates

An empty beach at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
An empty beach at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
File photo of a passenger jet leaving Newcastle Airport en route to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. Photo:Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Sharm el Sheikh
Russian tourists at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

Neil Lancefield

British Prime Minister Teresa May has been urged to allow flights resume between the UK and Sharm el-Sheikh.

Sir Gerald Howarth MP, head of the cross-party parliamentary group on Egypt, has written to the Prime Minister asking her to end the flight ban.

In the letter, Howarth claimed that significant progress has been made on tightening security checks at the Red Sea resort's airport.

He also warned that there was a risk of people in Sharm becoming "radicalised" if the area's tourism industry continued to suffer.

Flights between the UK and Sharm were suspended by the UK Government in November 2015, shortly after the terrorist bombing of a Russian passenger plane on October 31 killed 224 people.

The Irish Aviation Authority has directed Irish airline operators not to operate to/from its airport or in Egyptian Sinai peninsula airspace until further notice.

Russian tourists at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
Russian tourists at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

All UK airlines have currently suspended their flights to Sharm el Sheikh, with British Airways announcing earlier this year it has cancelled flights "indefinitely".

'Necessary measures' put in place

During a visit to Egypt in July, Sir Gerald inspected how baggage was handled at the airport and met senior officials.

In an interview with the Press Association, the Conservative MP for Aldershot said: "They really have been listening to what the UK authorities have been asking them to do. They are clearly bending over backwards to try to deliver.

"One of the guys we met was a Department for Transport (DfT) official and when I asked him, 'Are there any showstoppers to the resumption of flights?', he said 'No'.

"I believe that the necessary measures have been put in place to minimise the risk.

"We live in an imperfect world and no government can guarantee 100% security anywhere."

In June, British Airways suspended its flights to Sharm "indefinitely", stating that "the safety and security of our customers will always be our top priorities".

Sharm el Sheikh
Sharm el Sheikh

EasyJet, Monarch and Thomson Airways have previously said they are awaiting for the Foreign and Commonwealth to change its travel advice, which currently warns against all but essential travel by air to or from the resort.

Sir Gerald explained that hotels in Sharm were only 25-35pc occupied and were "clearly hurting" from the UK flight ban.

"They've invested a huge amount of money in these really very sophisticated places," he said.

"They've kept on the staff. They can't do that indefinitely and, if the staff are laid off, we will have a substantial number of people who will be potentially radicalised.

"There is an imperative on ensuring that the resort can resume its contribution to the prosperity of Egypt."

'Working closely' on the issue

Last month, Mrs May welcomed Egypt's efforts to improve security at Sharm airport in a phone conversation with the country's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

An account of the call released by Downing Street gave no indication the Prime Minister was ready to ease Government advice, saying only that the UK would continue "working closely" with Cairo on the issue.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister said she recognised the economic effects of the suspension, given the importance of the tourism industry to Egypt's economy, and she praised the Egyptian government's ongoing efforts to improve security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport."

Sir Gerald said the resumption of flights was "exclusively in the hands of the Prime Minister" and he believed "she is keen to make a decision in the next few weeks".

He added: "We hope that we can resolve this problem."

A DfT spokeswoman said: "The security of British nationals is our top priority, and we took the decision to suspend flights from Sharm el-Sheikh in November last year to protect the travelling public.

"We keep aviation security under constant review."

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