Why were UK flights to Sharm el Sheikh banned and when will flights resume?

Simon Calder
Sharm el Sheikh: Getty/iStock

The ban on UK airlines flying to Egypt’s premier resort, Sharm el Sheikh, has finally been lifted – four years after flights were banned.

These are the key questions and answers.

Why was the ban imposed?

On 31 October 2015, a Russian charter flight from Sharm el Sheikh to St Petersburg crashed in the Sinai desert shortly after take-off from the Egyptian resort.

Investigators concluded that an explosive device concealed in a soft drink can was placed onboard at the Egyptian airport.

All 224 passengers and crew on the Metrojet flight died, making it the worst-ever crash involving a Russian aircraft.

Within days the Foreign Office deemed the airport to be too dangerous for UK airlines to use. An airlift was organised in which British passengers were flown home on aircraft with sealed holds, with their luggage flown separately.

What was the effect?

The winter season 2015-16, in which around half a million British holidaymakers were to have visited Sharm el Sheikh and neighbouring resorts, was wiped out. Airlines including Monarch, Thomas Cook and British Airways initially said they would reinstate flights as soon as possible, and several holiday companies sold trips – which later had to be cancelled.

By the summer of 2016, the Egyptian government had spent tens of millions of pounds upgrading security at Sharm el Sheikh, but repeated requests to the UK to allow flights to resume were rebuffed. Airlines and holiday companies cancelled all their planned operations and moved capacity to other destinations – including Hurghada, across the Gulf of Suez.

Why has it taken four years to lift the ban?

The official reason is that until now the UK government was unsatisfied that security standards at Sharm el Sheikh airport were adequate.

Many in the travel industry believe the delay has been partly a result of the political turmoil in the UK. Senior sources have told The Independent that David Cameron was planning to lift the ban in the summer of 2016. But the Leave vote and his immediate resignation meant that the announcement – expected within days – was never made.

Since then, despite increasingly vocal demands for the reinstatement by Egyptian officials, the issue has been put on the back burner.

When will flights resume?

The winter season for the travel industry begins next Sunday, 27 October. By my estimation there is only a small chance of flights starting in time for Christmas/New Year. February half-term is more possible, but because of the collapse of Thomas Cook and the Boeing 737 Max grounding there is a chronic shortage of planes – and fleets are fully committed.

It is possible that foreign airlines might come in, though. A Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesperson says: “UK carriers may now recommence services, and the CAA will consider Foreign Carrier Permit applications from non-UK airlines wishing to operate routes between the UK and Sharm El-Sheikh.”

Will it be just like before?

No. The ban had a devastating effect on the Egyptian economy, and the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depended on the Red Sea resort.

With no indication of when the British market might return, the country and its tourism industry has built up a thriving business with Italian, Polish and Ukrainian holidaymakers. So there are not necessarily thousands of empty hotel rooms waiting for travellers from the UK, which is another reason the reinstatement of holidays will not be imminent.

What is the current Foreign Office assessment of the threat in the region?

High. The current travel advice warns against “all but essential travel” in the whole of the South Sinai, except the area within the Sharm el Sheikh perimeter barrier – which includes the airport and the areas of Sharm el Maya, Hadaba, Naama Bay, Sharks Bay and Nabq, but not St Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai.


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