Pressure is growing on the government to reconsider its ban on flights to Sharm el Sheikh after prime minister Theresa May flew to the Red Sea resort at the weekend for an EU-Arab League summit.
While Brexit dominated discussions and mainstream media headlines, the visit also turned the spotlight on the ban, enforced in November 2015 after a Russian Metrojet aircraft was bombed following its departure from Sharm, killing all 224 people on board.
The UK and Russia are the only countries still enforcing bans on direct flights to Sharm.
Former MP Gerald Howarth, then chairman of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Egypt, wrote to May in September 2016 following three visits to Sharm urging her to lift the ban, citing assurances from Department for Transport officials that the conditions to enable flights to resume had been met.
This week, APPG co-chairman Stephen Timms told TTG it remains the “clear view” of the group that the ban should be lifted, adding it was his hope the prime minister would take the opportunity during her visit to assess the security improvements at Sharm.
The pressure on May and the government follows comments by the Egyptian ambassador to the UK Tarek Adel that improvements were complete and Sharm was “ready to receive direct flights from Britain”.
Red Sea Holidays chief executive Peter Kearns wrote directly to May on Monday (February 25), urging her to “prioritise an immediate review” of the ban, noting arrivals during her visit included flights from Italy, Belgium, Spain and more than 15 other countries.
Thomas Cook, meanwhile, stated last month it is “looking forward” to building Sharm into its holiday programme once the ban is lifted, but has stressed the current situation means the resort remains, in effect, “closed to British tourists”.
With no immediate prospect of the ban being lifted, the Egyptian State Tourist Office last year overhauled its strategy in the UK, focusing its attention on Hurghada, Marsa Alam and Luxor instead.
UK and Ireland director Amr El Ezabi told TTG last week he hoped May would “see for herself” that Sharm was a “functioning and trustworthy” airport.
UK arrivals in Egypt increased 38.1% to 319,000 in 2017, with further growth expected in its 2018 figures. However, arrivals are still significantly down on the 1.2 million who travelled to Egypt annually before the ban.
The Foreign Office continues to advise against all but essential travel, directly by air, to or from Sharm el Sheikh. It is accessible to Brits only via transit.
A government spokesperson said the security of British nationals was its “top priority”, while stressing it had “not yet concluded it is right to lift the restrictions”.
“We continue to work closely with the Egyptian authorities on aviation security and regularly review our decision,” they added.