Berlin (AFP) – The Lufthansa Group said Thursday it would halt flights by its subsidiaries Eurowings and Edelweiss between Germany and Sharm el-Sheikh, citing “the current situation on the Sinai peninsula”.
It also said it would cooperate with the German foreign ministry and tour operators to repatriate holiday-makers from the Egyptian Red Sea resort.
Britain and Ireland earlier temporarily suspended flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh after a Russian plane crashed 23 minutes after taking off from the resort, killing all 224 people on board in what Britain and Washington suspect was a bomb attack.
Air France, the French unit of Air France- KLM Group, and Deutsche Lufthansa AG said they’ll avoid flying over the area in Egypt where a Russian-operated aircraft went down earlier on Saturday, diverting planes as a precaution until more information becomes available on the cause of the crash that killed all 224 passengers and crew on board.
The two airlines reacted as Egyptian authorities began probing the cause of the crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Preliminary investigations indicate the plane, an Airbus 321 operated by Russia’s Metrojet, may have come down because of a technical issue, the state-run Ahram Gate website said, citing Egyptian security officials.
The choice of flight paths has become an issue of public debate in the wake of downing of a Boeing Co. 777 wide-body jet last year over eastern Ukraine, an area that some airlines had already avoided amid fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro- Russian separatists on the ground below. The July 17, 2014, crash of Flight MH17 that killed 298 people was later described as having been caused by 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 zones where military conflicts had occurred.
“In light of appropriate precautions displayed in the MH17 incident 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.”
The Russian plane crashed 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh, a popular Red Sea resort. The airliner, which took off at 5:51 a.m. Cairo time heading for St. Petersburg, had reached a cruising altitude of 31,000 feet, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said.
Airlines themselves set their flight plans. Airline dispatchers file flight plans to determine the ideal path, which has to be accepted by air-traffic control authorities or air-navigation services providers.
At KLM, a spokeswoman said the airline had no flights scheduled in that area today so there was no need to review flight paths. She said the airline would exercise caution in the event it has flights set to fly 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.
The German pilots’ union will extend its strike at Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) into Wednesday after a walkout already planned for Tuesday in a long-running dispute over pay, benefits and cost cuts.
Tuesday’s strike, the 13th in 18 months, affects long-haul passenger and cargo flights out of Germany from 0600 GMT (2 a.m. EDT) to 2159 GMT (5.59 p.m. EDT) on Tuesday, while Wednesday’s 24-hour strike targets short-haul Lufthansa and Germanwings flights, it said on Monday.
Lufthansa said it would operate 90 out of about 170 planned long-haul flights for Tuesday and all seven cargo flights thanks to pilots volunteering to work. It expects several hundred flights to be canceled on Wednesday, when it has 1,350 short-haul flights planned.
Lufthansa is trying to cut costs as it battles to maintain market share against budget rivals such as Ryanair (RYA.I).
Relations between management and the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) union, which represents around 5,000 Lufthansa and Germanwings pilots, broke down again last week. The union has offered concessions, including increasing the average retirement age to 60 and looking at ways to bring costs down to a level comparable with easyJet (EZJ.L).