The Egyptian government has spent more than $76 million to upgrade airport security over the past two years in an effort to thwart terrorist attacks. Upgrades such as new luggage scanning machines, metal detectors, and closed-circuit television since the 2015 crash of a Russian airliner in the Sanai Pensinsula have modernized Egypt’s airports to international standards, according to aviation ministry officials. Even public perceptions about the safety of Egypt’s airports have improved, and tourism numbers have begun to recover. However, the UK has yet to lift a suspension of all flights to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh imposed after intelligence services determined that a bomb planted on the Metrojet Airbus A321 caused the crash, killing all 224 on board.
The Egyptian aviation and tourism industry have traversed turbulent times since the dawning of the so-called Arab Spring in the Middle East. Within days of the Metrojet crash, Russia’s government suspended all flights by its carriers in and out of Egypt on the basis of intelligence reports that a bomb might have destroyed the aircraft. That move came some 48 hours after the UK government stopped flights to and from Sharm El Sheikh. The governments of the Netherlands, France, and Belgium all subsequently advised their nationals not to travel to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
Speaking recently with AIN in Cairo, Egyptian minister of aviation Sharif Fathi insisted that his country has addressed the security deficiencies that led to the flight suspensions and advisories, and Russia lifted its ban in early April. “Some Egyptian airports were perceived as not safe enough, but Egypt scored a high point when IATA audited Egyptian airports,” he said. “It is more of bad publicity than the facts on the ground. We have got many delegates who come to see the security procedures at our airports and they have seen that we are good enough and meet all the international security standards.”
Fathi claims that, as a result, the Egyptian tourism and aviation industries have entered a full-fledged recovery, as the number of visitors has grown every year since 2016. “Last year there was a huge influx of tourist and this year we have seen 500,000 more tourists than last year,” he said. “The national carrier is on the right track to recovery.”
Still, Fathi explained that adverse publicity and misperception continues to challenge the aviation and tourism industries in Egypt. “We say Sinai is the governorate of Sharm el-Sheikh in South Sinai but people immediately associate it with the war on terrorism in North Sinai. There is a big distance between Sharm el-Sheikh airport and where the military operation is taking place. But many people are not aware of the geographical location,” Fathi lamented.