One airline after another has expressed concerns about the ‘situation in Cairo’ without anyone being able to specify what they are talking about, putting Egypt-bound tourists in a fix.
A decision by the British Airways (BA) to impose a seven-day suspension on flights to Egypt, citing security concerns, has turned into an aviation fiasco with officials from all sides scrambling to find answers.
On Saturday July 20, the privately-owned BA announced that it's cancelling its one daily flight to Cairo for the next week. Passengers who were about to board the plane were told about the cancellation at the last minute.
Right around the time this was happening, Germany’s Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline by passenger traffic, also announced the suspension of its flight to Egypt.
But in Cairo, as officials pressed British and European diplomats for an explanation, Lufthansa said it was resuming operations just hours after making the initial announcement.
“This [decision is based on] British Airways’ own assessment and stems from their own safety evaluation department,” Alex Macheras, an aviation analyst, who is closely following the development, told TRT World.
“This has nothing to do with the British government. This has nothing to do with the intelligence, which the government has gathered,” he said, insisting that reports claiming to know more must be disregarded at this point of time.
Egypt complains that BA didn’t inform its officials before making the public disclosure, which comes during the peak tourism season — a key revenue earner for the country.
After a public backlash, Egyptian Aviation Minister Younes El Masry rushed to meet British Ambassador Geoffrey Adams in Cairo on Sunday.
Masry expressed his “dismay” over the unilateral decision, saying Egyptian authorities weren’t even informed beforehand.
“The British Ambassador apologised to the Minister of Aviation for not informing Egyptian authorities before the decision was issued, stressing that the decision is not related to security measures at the Egyptian airports,” his ministry said in a statement.
Egyptians took to Twitter to point out that there are already too many checks at Cairo airport.
#Cairo Airport:— Nervana Mahmoud (@Nervana_1) July 21, 2019
•Unlike other airports, one cannot enter without providing proof of traveling
•All luggages go through security scan before check-in
•Then passengers pass through security
•Some airlines, as @British_Airways , do extra security check before boarding #Egypt
There was also confusion over an old travel advisory posted on the website of the British government, warning its citizens against going to certain parts of Egypt including the restive Sinai region and the resort city of Sharm el Sheikh.
Many news websites quoted a specific part of the advisory as claiming “a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation”.
Macheras says the advisory has been on the website for a long time.
“Everything is exactly the same on the website except the bit on the top which says British Airways has suspended the route to Cairo,” he said.
But the damage has been done.
“Every single airline seems to know something is going on if you look at their statements. Etihad Airways said they are closely monitoring the situation in Cairo while Cairo keeps asking which situation are you talking about?” said Macheras.
“I don't think this will be damaging for Egypt’s tourism this summer because this is just one airline flying on one route that has suspended so far for at least seven days.
“But it causes concerns among travellers who are wondering why it’s safe to fly EgyptAir between London and Cairo but unsafe on British Airways to do the same.”
The tourism industry is a big employer in Egypt, making up close to 13 percent of the economy. The country hopes tourism revenue will reach $8 billion this year on the back of 8.3 million tourists.
However, that is still far from the annual revenue of $12 billion and 14.7 million visitors, a peak that the country saw in 2010.
Since the revolution in 2011, which overthrew longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, terrorist attacks and aviation disasters have taken a toll on the hospitality business.
A big jolt came in 2015, when Daesh blew up a Russian aircraft minutes after it took off from the Sharm el Sheikh resort, killing more than 200 people. That drove away tourists and many countries stopped flights to Egypt with devastating financial consequences. Russia resumed flights to Cairo last year but airlines still avoid Sharm el Sheikh.
In 2015, a mentally unstable man hijacked a plane after it took off from the city of Alexandria by threatening to detonate a fake explosive vest and took it to Cyprus. While no one was injured in the incident, it raised concerns about flight safety.
Egypt has taken steps in recent years to beef up security - even hiring a security company Control Risks - by reinforcing airport screening and introducing multiple layers of checks.