UAE carriers avoid Egypt’s Sinai after Russian plane crash

Dubai: Emirates, flydubai and Air Arabia have stopped flying over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after a Russian passenger plane crashed there on Saturday, killing all 224 on board.

The cause of the accident remains unknown but a Daesh affiliate group in Egypt has claimed responsibility, saying it had shot down the passenger airplane. Russia’s Transport Minister has said the claim “can’t be considered accurate”.

“Emirates is currently avoiding flying over the Sinai Peninsula until more information is available,” an airline spokesperson told Gulf News by email on Sunday. Flydubai also said it had “re-routed” flights “around the Sinai”.

Sharjah-based Air Arabia said the decision to avoid Sinai was made “following the recent tragic event”.

“Air Arabia has temporarily rerouted its flights avoiding flying over the area as a precautionary measure and until further information is available,” a spokesperson told Gulf News.

Air Arabia’s Egyptian and Jordanian joint ventures are also likely to be affected with both airlines, Air Arabia Egypt and Air Arabia Jordan, operating regular flights through Egyptian airspace. Etihad Airways declined to comment on any changes to its flight operations over the Sinai.

Airlines flying daily over the Sinai to Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa will now likely fly south between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the Red Sea.

But the precautionary step to avoid the Sinai is likely to add to an already congested Middle East airspace as airlines now navigate their way through a smaller area. Many airlines do not currently fly over Syria, Yemen and parts of Iraq due to the conflicts in those countries. It will also likely add to the flight time for many carriers, including flights from the Gulf to Lebanon.

Egyptian airspace is already used by the Gulf airlines to fly to Lebanon because they avoid flying over Syria and do not use Israeli airspace. An Emirates flight from Dubai to Beirut, which flies over Egypt, currently takes around 4 hours and 30 minutes, according to its website.

A spokesperson from Bahrain carrier Gulf Air told Gulf News by phone it is reviewing its operations but for now continues to operate flights over the Sinai.

European airlines Air France and Lufthansa have also stopped flying over the Sinai but British Airways has said it is not changing its flight paths over the area to Saudi Arabia and Africa.

On Saturday, the Airbus 321 operated by Russian commercial airliner Metrojet crashed in northern Sinai in an area where Egyptian security forces have previously fought local militants who recently aligned themselves with Daesh.