A handout picture released by Egypt's Prime Minister's office on October 31, 2015, shows PM Sherif Ismail (R) at the site of the wreckage of a crashed A321 Russian airliner in Hassana a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Emirates and Qatar Airways, two of the Middle East’s biggest airlines, have stopped flying over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after a Russian passenger plane crashed there on Saturday, killing all 224 on board.

The move is in line with major European carriers Lufthansa and Air France and other Middle East airlines that are also avoiding flying over the Sinai.

The cause of Saturday’s accident remains unknown but a Daesh affiliate group in Egypt has claimed responsibility, saying it had shot down the passenger airplane. Russia’s Transport Minister has said the claim “can’t be considered accurate”.

Emirates, Qatar Airways, flydubai, Air Arabia and Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways all said on Sunday they have changed flight paths to avoid flying over the Sinai. However, Etihad Airways and Europe’s British Airways are continuing to fly over the area.

“Emirates is currently avoiding flying over the Sinai Peninsula until more information is available,” an airline spokesperson told Gulf News by email.

A Qatar Airways spokesperson said the airline is re-routing flights around the Sinai “out of an abundance of caution.”

But Etihad Airways said that it has decided against changing flight paths “following a full assessment of the situation.” Etihad did say it is “complying with instructions by the Egyptian authorities to avoid certain areas of airspace over the Sinai.”

A spokesperson from Bahrain carrier Gulf Air told Gulf News by phone it is reviewing its operations but is also continuing to operate flights over the Sinai.

The precautionary step to avoid the Sinai is likely to add to an already congested Middle East airspace as airlines now navigate their way through a smaller area. Many airlines do not currently fly over Syria, Yemen and parts of Iraq due to the conflicts in those countries.

Flydubai told Gulf News it had “re-routed” flights “around the Sinai” and so has Air Arabia.

“Air Arabia has temporarily rerouted its flights avoiding flying over the area as a precautionary measure and until further information is available,” a spokesperson told Gulf News.

Air Arabia’s Egyptian and Jordanian joint ventures are also likely to be affected with both airlines, Air Arabia Egypt and Air Arabia Jordan, operating regular flights through Egyptian airspace.

Jazeera Airways said the flight path of its only route that flies over the Sinai has been changed. The airline will not be flying over the Sinai  "until more information is made available about the incident," Bader Al Mershed, the airline's vice-president of industry affairs, told Gulf News by email.

British Airways reportedly said on Sunday said it would not be changing flight paths over the Sinai to Saudi Arabia and Africa. On Saturday, the Airbus 321 operated by Russian commercial airliner Metrojet crashed in northern Sinai in an area where Egyptian security forces have previously fought local militants who recently aligned themselves with Daesh.

Kuwait low-cost carrier Jazeera Airways said it has changed the flight path of its one route that flying over the Sinai. 

Bader Al Mershed, the airline's vice-president of industry affairs, told Gulf News by email the airline would not be flying over the Sinai 'until more information is made available about the incident'.

Update: Bahrain's Gulf Air told Gulf News late on Saturday by a text message that the airline "has commenced rerouting its flights around the Sinai peninsula as a security precaution to avoid the northern Sinai area over Arish."