Gulf, European Carriers Avoid Sinai After Russian Jet Crash

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Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg
  • Airlines avoiding the site as precaution until more is known
  • Etihad Airways is U.A.E. holdout, will keep flying over Sinai

Most national carriers in the United Arab Emirates will reroute flights to avoid Egypt’s Sinai peninsula until more is known on what caused a Russian-operated jet to crash there on Saturday, killing all 224 people aboard.

Dubai-based Emirates, FlyDubai and Sharjah-based Air Arabia joined Air France and Deutsche Lufthansa in shunning that flight path, and said Sunday that they are monitoring the situation closely. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways said it will continue flying over the Sinai because there’s no evidence of any “ulterior motive” in the crash, an airline spokesman said by e-mail, adding that it will comply with Egyptian instructions to avoid certain areas over the peninsula.

The Egyptian airspace over the Sinai continues to remain open, Mohamed Rahma, a civil aviation ministry spokesman, said in an e-mail. Preliminary investigations indicate the plane, an Airbus 321 operated by Russia’s Metrojet, went down because of a technical problem, the state-run Ahram Gate website said, citing Egyptian security officials.

Flight paths became a matter of public debate after a Boeing Co. 777 aircraft crashed last year over eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops were battling pro-Russian separatists. The July 2014 crash that killed 298 people was later blamed on a missile launched from rebel-held territory. While Ukraine had blocked air traffic below a certain threshold, it had allowed airlines to fly at cruising altitude above conflict zones.

Precautions

“It makes sense now for airlines to display an abundance of caution,” said Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, New York. “But I’m not aware of anything suggesting a ground-to-air missile.”

Elsewhere in the Persian Gulf, Qatar Airways also said its planes would avoid airspace over Sinai “out of an abundance of caution” until more information is known about what caused the Metrojet disaster.

Airlines propose their own flight routes, which have to be approved by air-traffic control authorities or air-navigation services providers.

The Russian plane crashed 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh, a popular Red Sea resort. The airliner, which was heading for St. Petersburg, had reached a cruising altitude of 31,000 feet, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said.

A KLM spokeswoman said the airline had no flights scheduled in that area Sunday so there was no need to review flight paths. She said the carrier would exercise caution in any future flights in the area.

At British Airways, a spokeswoman said the airline “would never operate a flight until it was safe to do so,” declining to discuss specific routes, citing company practice.

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