EgyptAir hijacking raises further questions on Egypt’s aviation safety

The hijacking of an EgyptAir Airbus A320 en route between Alexandria and Cairo has once again brought the safety of air transportation in Egypt to the attention. Although this incident proved not be terrorism related, questions have been raised as to how the hijacker was able to embark on the plane wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest with explosives.

The hijacking of an EgyptAir Airbus A320 en route between Alexandria and Cairo has once again brought the safety of air transportation in Egypt to the attention.  An Egyptian citizen, named by authorities as Seif El Din Mustafa, took control of flight ‘MS181’ on March 29, 2016 while on its domestic flight to the nation’s capital.  He demanded the aircraft be re-routed to Larnaca in Cyprus, where he later freed the passengers and crew and was arrested.

Although this incident proved not be terrorism related, questions have been raised as to how the hijacker was able to embark on the plane wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest with explosives. It is in fact the eighth reported hijacking incident involving an EgyptAir aircraft, reports Aviation Safety Network.

It was later reported that the suicide vest was a fake, but that has not dampened the obvious security concerns. An official at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren't stupid. This guy is."

Egyptian authorities promised to tighten airport security in the wake of the downing of the Metrojet Airbus A321 in October last year, where all 224 passengers died. Investigations later found that explosives had been smuggled onto the airliner, most likely at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport and caused the aircraft to crash after departure from the Red Sea resort.

“Airlines today are examining their air service to Egypt after a second major security lapse in the last six months,” said experienced aviation journalist Mike Miller, head of content and industry relations at UBM EMEA’s Routes business.

After the October 31, 2015 Metrojet crash in Egypt’s Sinai region, many nations suspended flights to and from Sharm El Sheikh International Airport.  In the UK, for example, regular flights were suspended on November 4, 2015 but special security measures in place permitted emergency repatriation flights to operate through to November 17, 2015.  Since then the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm el Sheikh.

The UK FCO also advises against all travel to the Governorate of North Sinai due to the “significant increase in criminal activity and continued terrorist attacks on police and security forces that have resulted in deaths” and advises against all but essential travel to the Governorate of South Sinai, with the exception of the area within the Sharm el Sheikh perimeter barrier, excluding the airport.

The Egyptian Red Sea resorts have become a popular leisure destination for European visitors due to its year-round warm climate, but restrictions mean that major airlines such as British Airways and easyJet have suspended flights into Sharm el Shiekh, while tour operators Thomson and Thomas Cook have cancelled all flights and holidays through to May 25, 2016 and October 31, 2016, respectively.

Egypt has promised a notable investment in improving its security. Tourism minister Hisham Zaazou said earlier this year: "Egypt has a long track record of enhancing security and seeking to ensure that our citizens and tourists visiting our country are safe and secure. These additional measures bring our tourist security to another level. However, we will not stop there. We constantly review our capabilities on a regular basis and will continue to do so.”

"The security of visitors to Egypt remains our highest priority. I believe that these new measures will further add to the security of our resorts while not being intrusive to tourists so they can get on with enjoying their holidays," he added.

A look at schedule data from intelligence provider, OAG, shows that international capacity into Egypt has shown little change since the Metrojet crash last October with capacity actually up 5.7 percent in the November 2015 – March 2016 window in comparison to the same five month period in 2014/2015.  However, there have been modest declines in capacity from the start of this year when you look into the summer months this grows to double-digit rates.

The concerns over security safety at Sharm el Sheikh and the cancellation of many flights is clear to see in the data. International departure seats from the airport were down 76.1 percent in the first quarter of this year versus the same period in 2014 from almost 340,000 to just over 80,000. Hurghada, where a knife attack at the Bella Vista Hotel on January 8, 2016 resulted in injuries to three foreign nationals, has also seen international seat capacity decline by almost a third in the same period.

These massive declines have been offset by growth elsewhere in Egypt.  At the country’s main gateway of Cairo International Airport international capacity was up 10.8 percent in the first quarter of 2016, an additional 245,000 seats, while significant year-on-year growth was recorded at Aswan and Asyut, the latter becoming the country’s fifth largest international arrival point by capacity in the process.

OAG shows there are ten Egyptian airports that will handle scheduled international flights this summer.  These will be linked to foreign markets by 72 different airlines, albeit four in ten of all international flights planned in 2016 will be flown by national carrier, EgyptAir. 

The table below shows the largest international airlines in Egypt by planned 2016 flight schedules and the airports they link in the country to international markets. The list includes all airlines with more than 100 scheduled international departures from Egypt in the 2016 calendar year as extracted from OAG Schedules Analyser on March 29, 2016.

Airline

Egyptian International Flight Departures (2016)

Egyptian Airports Served

EgyptAir (MS)

32,297

ASW, CAI, HBE, LXR, SSH

Saudia (SV)

6,751

CAI, HBE, LXR, SSH

Air Cairo (SM)

3,467

ATZ, CAI, HBE, HMB, HRG, SSH

Nile Air (NP)

3,204

CAI, HBE

ALMasria Universal Airlines (UJ)

2,809

CAI, HBE

Flynas (XY)

2,579

ASW, ATZ, CAI, HBE, HMB, LXR, SSH

Turkiah Airlines (TK)

1,926

CAI, HBE, HRG, SSH

Air Arabia (G9)

1,622

ATZ, CAI, HBE, HMB

Qatar Airways (QR)

1,606

CAI, HBE, LXR

Royal Jordanian (RJ)

1,591

CAI, SSH

Jazeera Airways (J9)

1,564

ATZ, CAI, HBE, HMB, LXR, SSH

Etihad Airways (EY)

1,377

CAI

Air Arabia Egypt (E5)

1,190

HBE

Air Libya (TLR)

941

ATZ, CAI, HBE

Kuwait Airways (KU)

927

CAI, , HMB, SSH

Emirates Airline (EK)

889

CAI

NEOS (NO)

833

HRG, MUH, RMF, SSH

Lufthansa (LH)

784

CAI

Middle East Airlines (ME)

745

CAI, SSH

Gulf Air (GF)

732

CAI

flydubai (FZ)

725

HBE

Condor (DE)

710

HRG

Alitalia (AZ)

683

CAI

Nesma Airlines (NE)

607

CAI, HMB

Air Leisure (AL)

603

ATZ, HBE, HMB, HRG, LXR

Oman Air (WY)

483

CAI

Thomson Airways (TOM)

452

HRG, LXR, SSH

British Airways (BA)

406

CAI, SSH

Ethiopian Airlines (ET)

366

CAI

airberlin (AB)

354

HRG, RMF

Air Sinai (4D)

348

CAI

Monarch (ZB)

320

HRG, SSH

Jetforyou (J4)

314

CAI

Germania (ST)

314

HRG, RMF

Air France (AF)

313

CAI

Thomas Cook Airlines (MT)

302

HRG, SSH

TUIfly (X3)

290

HRG, RMF

Tarco Air (3T)

287

CAI

Libyan Airlines (LN)

284

HBE

Austrian Airlines (OS)

275

CAI

Aegean Airlines (A3)

262

CAI, HBE

Iraqi Airways (IAW)

262

CAI

Royal Air Maroc (AT)

255

CAI

Meridiana (IG)

231

CAI, LXR, RMF, SSH

Pegasus Airlines (PC)

215

HRG

KLM (KL)

210

CAI

Swiss International Air Lines (LX)

208

CAI

Air Algerie (AH)

170

CAI

TunisAir (TU)

166

CAI

easyJet (U2)

146

HRG

Edelweiss Air (WK)

134

HRG, RMF, SSH

NIKI (HG)

133

HRG, RMF

Yemenia Yemen Airways (IY)

125

CAI

Sudan Airways (SD)

118

CAI

Germania (GM)

112

HRG, RMF, SSH

Royal Falcon (RFJ)

105

CAI

Belair Airlines (4T)

100

HRG, RMF

Airport Codes: ASW: Aswan; ATZ: Asyut; CAI: Cairo; HBE: Alexandria Borg el Arab; HMB: Sohag; HRG: Hurghada; LXR: Luxor; MUH: Mersa Matruh; RMF: Marsa Alam; SSH: Sharm el Sheikh

SOURCE: OAG Schedules Analyser (extracted March 29, 2016)


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