Cairo: A surprise decision by the British Airways to suspend flights to and from Cairo for a week has triggered criticism in Egypt as the country’s vital tourism sector emerges from years of the doldrums.
On Saturday, the British airline said it decided to halt the Cairo flights for seven days as a precautionary measure, citing security concerns. The German carrier Lufthansa followed suit, but later it said it would be flying to Cairo on Sunday. A Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt was scheduled to land in the Egyptian capital Sunday afternoon.
“The British Airways step has no justification as no-one can deny prevalent security and stability,” Mahmoud Fahmy, a tourism expert, said.
“Of all British airlines flying to Egypt, BA was the only one that took this decision,” Fahmy told Gulf News .
For example, EasyJet, a British charter airline, continues flights to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Hurghada, according to Fahmy.
“Moreover, Egyptian airports, including Cairo airport, have reported no changes in the scheduled flights of other airlines from around the world,” he added.
“Last week, Cairo airport received dozens of flights carrying fans from Algeria and Senegal to attend the final of the African Cup of Nations [held in Egypt on Friday]. These flights arrived and then left without any security problems,” Fahmy added.
He voiced worries that the British move would harm the influx of foreign tourists to Egypt.
Once a major foreign currency earner for Egypt, the tourism industry bore the brunt of the upheavals that followed the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
“2018 was the most successful year since 2011,” said Fahmy. “The trend has been promising so far this year.” Last year, some 9.8 million foreign tourists visited Egypt, an increase of more than 47 per cent against 2016, according to official figures.
Head of Egypt’s Civil Aviation Authority Sameh Al Hefnawy hinted the decision on flight suspension was politically motivated.
“It has no link to aviation, but it is a political issue,” he told private satellite television MBC Masr Saturday night.
“Every time the country moves ahead, a crisis is fabricated. All Egyptian airports are properly secured,” he added.
British security experts last week conducted “successful” regular checks at the Egyptian airports, Egyptian media reported on Sunday.
Egypt has experienced a spate of militant attacks after the army’s 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi, following enormous street protests against his rule. Since taking office in mid-2014, incumbent President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi has largely re-established stability in Egypt.
In October, 2015, Egyptian tourism suffered a new blow when a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai shortly after its departure from the popular resort of Sharm Al Shaikh. All 224 people on board were killed. Russia said the jet had been brought down by a terrorist bomb and halted all flights to Egypt. Daesh claimed responsibility for the alleged bombing. Last year, Russia restarted its flights to Cairo.
The Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry said it has increased the seat capacity of EgyptAir’s London-bound flights after the BA decision. EgyptAir will also operate an additional flight to Heathrow airport in London.