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Travel industry news

21 Mar 2018

BY James Chapple


UK could lift Sharm flight ban if Russia reconsiders stance

The UK could reconsider its ban on flights to Sharm El Sheikh if Russia was to lift its restrictions, TTG has learned.

Sharm El Sheikh

UK could lift Sharm flight ban if Russia reconsiders stance

Flights to Sharm were grounded after Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 was downed by terrorists shortly after take off in October 2015. All 224 people on board were killed.


British security experts oversaw £20m improvements at Sharm airport and many nations have now resumed flights to the Red Sea resort.


The UK and Russia though - Egypt’s main source of inbound tourists before the attack - have been more cautious.


Russia recently resumed flights to Cairo but is still yet to return to Sharm. At the time, Egypt said Russia’s decision sent a "very positive message" to the UK government. UK tourists can still travel to Sharm if they transit via Cairo.


However, TTG was this week told that if Russia did allow flights back to Sharm, it being a Russian flight that was attacked, this could force the UK government to reconsider its own ban.


The Egyptian State Tourist Authority (ESTA) on Tuesday (March 20) launched a new campaign to promote Hurghada in the UK, with a return to Sharm in the near future looking increasingly unlikely.


Egypt believes Hurghada and other Red Sea resorts such as Marsa Alam and Luxor can fill the void left by Sharm and eventually replace it in the hearts and minds of UK tourists.


“Our strategy in the UK is to focus on Hurghada,” said ESTA director UK and Ireland Amr El Ezabi.


“It can replace Sharm no problem. Sharm is Egypt for many people in the UK - we will try to do this with Hurghada and Marsa Alam."


UK arrivals in Egypt were up 38.1% on 2016 to 319,000 in 2017, El Ezabi revealed, and are up 39.1% (61,481) to the end of February this year.


'No progress on Sharm return'

'No progress on Sharm return'

When approached by TTG this week, Jonathan Lord MP, co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Egypt, said he and fellow co-chairman Stephen Timms MP were not aware of any progress on a UK return to Sharm since a Commons debate on the ban in December last year.


It is widely accepted that after the £20m safety improvements at Sharm’s airport, it is now considered safe by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Foreign Office (FCO).


However, responding to Lord and Timms during the December debate, then minister of state for transport John Hayes MP said the ban on UK flights to Sharm remained in place due to a “wider range of security-related reasons”.


The DfT and FCO stance remains that the UK “continues to work closely with the Egyptian authorities on security arrangements” and “keeps aviation security under constant review”.


Said Lord: "I’m afraid I’m not aware of any progress since the Department for Transport responded to my adjournment debate on Sharm in the House of Commons on December 13 last year.


"Lord Stone of Blackheath has continued to table questions on this in the House of Lords to ministers too.


"The Egypt APPG still supports strongly the resumption of flights from the UK to Sharm, as outlined in the Commons debate."


During the December 13 debate, Mr Lord said security experts in the UK and Egypt were in agreement Sharm was now one of the world’s most secure airports.


"In 2016, after three trips to the town, Sir Gerald Howarth, then an MP and chairman of the APPG, told UK travel companies representatives of the Department for Transport had told him that they felt that the conditions to enable flights to resume had been met," he told ministers.


Egypt’s £20m investment included replacing outdated security equipment, employing UK aviation security firm Restrata to train 7,000 staff, run background checks on existing staff and introducing new biometric ID systems.


The country also spent a further £26m improving security at tourist hotspots and at hotels.


The Foreign Office (FCO) does not explicitly advise against travel to Sharm, but does warn nationals to avoid all but essential air travel to the Red Sea resort.


It does, however, warn against all travel to the North Sinai region, and states there remains an increased risk of terrorism against aviation.


On the flights ban, the FCO adds: "The UK government will continue working with the Egyptian authorities to enable regular flights between the UK and Sharm el Sheikh to resume.


"We are also liaising with travel companies so that they are able to resume flights and holidays in Sharm el Sheikh as soon as appropriate security arrangements are in place."

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