Egyptian ambassador urges UK to end flight ban to Sharm el-Sheikh

Direct flights from Britain to Sharm el-Sheikh should resume, the Egyptian ambassador to the UK has said.

Tarek Adel told the BBC Egypt had finished working with British security teams to upgrade its airports and was ready to welcome flights again.

All UK flights to beach resort Sharm el-Sheikh were banned in November 2015.

It followed the bombing of a Russian airliner which killed all 224 people on board. The Islamic State group claimed it was behind the attack.

Sharm el-Sheikh previously attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors from the UK each year, making it an important resort for airlines and holiday companies.

But despite travel firms calling for a decision on when UK flights to the Red Sea destination could resume, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to advise against “all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm el-Sheikh”.

The Egyptian ambassador told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he hoped the UK government would decide to resume flights soon.

“British direct flights to Sharm el-Sheikh have been suspended since November 2015 and since that date we have been working very closely with British technical and security teams to upgrade many of the facilities in Egyptian airports in general and Sharm el-Sheikh in particular,” Mr Adel said.

“We have concluded the work in this regard and that was in close co-ordination with the British technical teams and we are set to be ready to receive once again direct flights from Britain.”

Remote location

Former senior police officer Chris Phillips, who visited Sharm el-Sheikh following the bombing, told the Today programme that despite the security upgrade caution was advised.

Mr Phillips said he would not travel to the Red Sea city himself.

“We have to be careful because what we may perhaps consider suitable security is not considered the same elsewhere,” he said.

Mr Phillips, who has not visited the area since 2015, said that Sharm el-Sheikh itself was very vulnerable because of its remote location.

The former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office said one of the resort’s issues was that the surrounding desert made it hard to control its borders because “you can walk across the desert”.

However, he said that the issue needed to be revisited by the British government because Egypt’s economy needed tourism.

“It [Sharm el-Sheikh] will always be at the top end of the threat level for holiday makers. But that doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t go because there are other places that we go to similar to that,” he added.

According to the Foreign Office, about 900,000 Britons travelled to Egypt in 2015. In 2016, that number dropped to 231,000.

The UK government suspended flights to the Red Sea resort following the bombing on 31 October 2015, which happened on a passenger plane soon after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

More than 16,000 Britons stranded in the area were brought home on rescue flights amid increased security.

Egyptian officials have since admitted that at the time, Sharm el-Sheikh airport fell well short of international security standards.

They responded to a January 2016 report about its shortcomings by allowing in a team of British aviation security experts who spent time assessing Egypt’s major airports.