British delegation concludes Cairo visit over resuming Sharm flights

British delegation concludes Cairo visit over resuming Sharm flights
The high-level delegation from the UK was in Egypt for talks over the resumption of flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
3 min read
20 November, 2015
British Ambassador John Casson said a strong Egyptian economy was in the UK's interests [AFP]

Britain said it was making progress with Egypt on efforts to restore flights to Sharm el-Sheikh - suspended after the downing of a Russian airliner that had departed from the Red Sea resort.

A senior British government delegation of aviation and counter-terrorism experts on Friday concluded its two-day visit to Cairo for discussions on a joint plan to resume flights, said the UK embassy in the Egyptian capital.

The high-level visit followed instructions from British Prime Minister David Cameron, and was led by the PM's envoy on aviation security, Sir William Patey.

We want to be the first to find the solutions to restore normal flights as soon as possible
- Ambassador John Casson

After holding several discussions and meetings with senior Egyptian officials, including Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou, the British delegation conveyed a political message from Cameron that the UK would work "actively, urgently and in detail" with the Egyptian authorities.

"Britain was the first to act on airport security issues at Sharm el-Sheikh, and we want to be the first to find the solutions to restore normal flights as soon as possible," British Ambassador John Casson said in a statement.

"That's why Britain's most senior aviation security experts are here in Cairo this week," he explained.

The delegation also sang the praises of Egyptian officials, welcoming the "close and professional" cooperation over the past two weeks to ensure the safety of passengers departing from Sharm el-Sheikh.

It stressed that Britain would never falter in its commitment to work with the Egyptian government to "defeat shared enemies and threats to our citizens in Europe, North Africa and beyond".

"A strong Egyptian economy with a strong tourist industry, at the strategic heart of this vital region, is a national interest for Britain," the ambassador added.

"Recent events have shown that every country must take every possible step to protect their citizens. Britain will do that. But we must not allow anything to drive Britain and Egypt apart, or undermine our long-term economic and security partnership."

Britain suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular destination for British tourists, after a Russian plane went down on 31 October in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

All 224 passengers and crew, predominantly Russian holidaymakers, were killed on board.

This week, Russia claimed a bomb had brought down the plane, and on Wednesday, the Islamic State group said it had smuggled an explosive on board.

Egyptian investigators say the cause of the crash has not yet been determined.

The attack raised concerns over Egypt's airport security processes, with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond saying it called into question "the capability of the security on the ground at Sharm el-Sheikh".

Read more: Dabaa welcomes Egypt-Russia nuclear plant deal despite land disputes

$22.3m to boost airport security

On Thursday, The Egyptian Holding Airport and Air Navigation Company activated a security check plan in airports nationwide at a cost of EGP 175 million ($22.3 million) following Russia's announcement that the airliner was downed in an alleged act of terrorism.

The plan involves renewing and replacing the airport radiation scanners for passengers, cargo, luggage, parcels and even vehicles.

On the same day, speaking at a ceremony marking the signing of an Egyptian-Russian deal to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt's Mediterranean town of Dabaa, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that his country had taken many steps to boost security at ports of entry following the Russian airliner crash.

He also vowed not to stop until all security loopholes were closed.

Sisi added that Egypt was cooperating with technical committees from Russia and elsewhere to investigate the crash.

"We are dealing with the issue with a profound sense of responsibility and transparency," he said.

"We have taken a great many measures to revise security procedures at air and sea ports."