Ministers urged to set date for resumption of Sharm el-Sheikh flights


The Government has been urged to announce a date for the resumption of UK flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, one year after they were suspended over terror fears.

The Egyptian Red Sea resort was an important market for airlines and holiday companies, with hundreds of thousands of people visiting from the UK each year.

But the number of holidaymakers has plummeted since the Government banned flights to Sharm el-Sheikh airport on November 4 last year following the suspected terrorist bombing of a Russian airliner.

The Government said aviation security is "under constant review".

On Wednesday, Monarch announced that it has cancelled all flight and holiday bookings to the resort "for the foreseeable future".

The company is one of more than 30 travel businesses, including Expedia, Saga Holidays and EgyptAir, which have formed a partnership to call for a decision on when their customers will be able to fly direct from the UK to the popular winter sun destination.

Rasha Azaizi, director of the Egyptian state tourist office in London, said she was "deeply saddened" that the flight suspension was affecting the winter 2016/17 programme, but accepted it was "inevitable" that airlines would plan for their aircraft to fly elsewhere until the ban is ended.

She went on: "This long-term ban on flights to Sharm el-Sheikh is now affecting many UK travel businesses as well as airlines and is causing deep consumer confusion.

"The Foreign and Commonwealth advice is currently that it is safe to visit Sharm el-Sheikh, but not to go through the airport.

"That's given people the impression that they can't visit Egypt, when in fact British Airways, easyJet, Thomas Cook, Thomson and EgyptAir are already operating direct flights to other airports in Egypt."

UK holidaymakers who still want a break in Sharm el-Sheikh are forced to either take multiple flights or book a place on a ferry from Hurghada.

The German government lifted its flight ban earlier this year, while in September Turkish Airlines recommenced flights from Istanbul.

Last week Belgian airline Jetairfly became the latest to announce that it will resume flights.

Ms Azaizi went on: "No other country apart from Russia still has a ban on flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, but the UK Government has still not yet made a decision.

"We have been led to understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for Transport are all now happy with the measures put in place following stringent security reviews.

"We truly feel it's time for the British government to make a decision before the crucial winter holiday season."

Monarch confirmed it has received "no indication" from the Government on when the ban will be lifted.

Andrew Swaffield, chief executive of the company, said: "Much hard work has been done by the UK and Egyptian governments, along with the travel industry, to improve safety measures at Sharm el-Sheikh airport and it is very disappointing that it remains closed.

"If and when the airport does reopen then we will assess whether we start flights and holidays again."

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

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

A Government spokesman 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."