Expats Flee Egypt in Private Jets, Chartered Boeings

Expats Flee Egypt
A boy is held by his father as they wait to be evacuated by American authorities at Cairo International Airport in Cairo. Photographer: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Expatriate workers are fleeing Egypt in increasing numbers after political unrest prompted more than 1,200 to quit Cairo in rented business jets and airliners in the past 2 1/2 days, emergency-flight broker Air Partner Plc said.

Air Partner evacuated 800 people from Egypt on 14 flights in the 36 hours through midnight last night, most of them employees of clients in the oil, finance, telecommunications and supermarket industries, Chief Executive Officer Mark Briffa said in an interview. A further 470 will be flown out today as commercial airlines are filled to capacity.

Demand for charter flights from Egypt has jumped 60 percent since the unrest began, said Steve Blight, commercial director at Jet Booking Direct, which charges 16,000 pounds ($26,000) for a plane to Cyprus and 80,000 pounds to reach Abu Dhabi. Foreign workers departed as protesters urged a million people to take to the streets and force President Hosni Mubarak from office.

“Evacuations will carry on as the situation deteriorates,” Air Partner’s Briffa said by telephone. “If Mubarak decides to stay and enforces military action then our volumes will go up. The reality is that there’s not enough capacity on commercial airlines to fly the vast number of people who want to get out.”

Short Notice

Of those evacuated before today, 500 were flown to the U.K., 100 to Germany, and 200 -- mainly Americans -- to Dubai, the executive said. Planes ranging from private jets to Boeing Co. 737s and a 220-seat Airbus SAS A310 wide-body have been employed in the airlift, he said. Other clients have bought rights to fly staff out at short notice as required.

While network carriers including British Airways Plc and Deutsche Lufthansa AG are still operating to Egypt, with the German company adding an extra flight to carry 500 more people a day out of the country, Briffa said companies would rather not wait for seats to become available on packed commercial flights.

“For large corporations who need to move hundreds of people it’s much more effective to charter one large jet,” he said from Air Partner’s base in Crawley, England. “There’s no shortage of planes at the moment but there will be as it intensifies. Cairo airport itself is in complete and utter pandemonium. The volumes in there are horrendous.”

Wealthy Individuals

Jet Booking’s Blight said its tickets are typically booked by high-net-worth individuals, with insurers reluctant to cover costs for many travelers as policies often exclude civil unrest or riots. The broker is providing flights to Abu Dhabi and Dubai on three Boeing Business Jets with up to 30 seats, putting the cost per person at more than 2,600 pounds. Shuttles to Cyprus are operated by eight-seat jets from Hawker Beechcraft Corp.

Both charter companies say airport slots in Cairo are becoming difficult to secure during daylight hours after the government imposed a 3 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew in response to protests inspired by a revolt in Tunisia that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14. As many as 150 people have been killed in Egypt in clashes with security forces.

British Airways has begun positioning crew for Cairo-London services in Athens overnight rather than in Egypt, spokesman Richard Goodfellow said. The U.K. carrier has also changed the time of its flights to arrive shortly after 9 a.m. and leave at 11 a.m., allowing passengers to avoid the curfew. Services to Sharm El-Sheikh are operating as normal.

EasyJet Occupancy

EasyJet Plc is maintaining services to Luxor -- where the U.K. Foreign Office says non-essential travel should be avoided -- and the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, with occupancy levels on Egypt-bound legs holding up well, spokesman Paul Moore said. The discount carrier doesn’t fly to Cairo, Suez or Alexandria, where Britons have been advised not to travel.

The British government will operate a charter flight from Cairo on Feb. 3 to remove U.K. nationals, according to the Foreign Office website. Each of the 200 seats on the Boeing 757 will cost 300 pounds.

Emergency flights are tough to arrange because they require the sourcing of a plane, slots, fuel, ground-handling services and visas, all within a few hours, Air Partner said in a statement. In its day-to-day business the company charters flights for individuals including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Air Partner, which evacuated 7,500 expatriates from the Lebanon in one weekend in 2006 during the conflict with Israel, rose 32.75 pence or 7.4 percent yesterday, the biggest jump since Sept. 17. It added 0.25 pence today to close at 478 pence in London, the highest price since Dec. 14, 2009.

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