CAIRO – The British government announced that UK airlines will be allowed to fly to Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh after ending an almost four-year ban following the bombing of a Russian airliner in the Sinai desert that was claimed by the Islamic State group.
The Egyptian government’s repeated calls for the UK to allow flights to resume have been in vain despite millions of dollars of investments in upgrading airport security prior to the Britain’s lifting of the ban.
The move comes after multiple airport inspections and visits by aviation security experts in response to October 31, 2015 attack that killed all 224 people on board a Metrojet Airbus A320 carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort.
"The UK has been clear that flights to Sharm El Sheikh should resume when the security situation allows," British minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Andrew Murrison, said in a statement released by the embassy.
"I am pleased that today we can announce the lifting of the current restrictions."
British transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said that “the safety and security of British nationals remains our top priority and this decision follows close co-operation between our aviation security experts and their Egyptian counterparts, and improvements in security procedures at the airport.”
The bombing had dealt a devastating blow to Egypt's crucial tourism industry.
The British ambassador to Egypt, Geoffrey Adams, said the decision followed cooperation between security experts in both countries.
"We will work closely with airlines who wish to resume flights," he added.
The Foreign Commonwealth Office also updated its Egypt travel advice, stating that they no longer advise against all but essential travel by air to/from Sharm El Sheikh.
Egyptian authorities welcomed the move.
"This step is a testament to the continuous efforts exerted by the Egyptian government to ensure the safety and security of every visitor in all of Egypt's destinations, and in South Sinai in particular," the tourism ministry said in a statement.
Egypt has gone to great lengths to lure tourists back, touting archaeological finds and boosting security at airports and around ancient sites.
The British embassy said the number of British tourists remained high despite the ban on flights to flights to Sharm El Sheikh, reaching 415,000 visitors in 2018.
Monarch and Thomas Cook, which went bankrupt in October 2017 and September 2019 respectively, were two of the leading UK travel firms serving Sharm El Sheikh before the ban which took its toll on their finances.
The BBC reported that the German tour operator TUI was expected to increase its holiday offering to the area taking into account “customer demand.”
Russia, another major source of tourists to Egypt, initially suspended all direct flights to Egypt following the attack.
It resumed direct flights to Cairo last year but has yet to restart them to popular Red Sea resorts.
Egypt's tourism industry has started to rebound in recent years with arrivals reaching 8.2 million in 2017 and 11.3 million in 2018.