Airlines told to restart UK-bound flights from Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday

© Phil Noble
Britain’s Department of Transport (DoT) has told airlines to restart homebound flights from Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday, after Downing Street cancelled all planes leaving the Egyptian resort on Wednesday night amid security fears.

DoT officials met with the chief operations officers of UK airlines to discuss the emergency measures on Thursday afternoon, according to the Guardian.

Monarch Airlines announced it will operate three rescue flights from Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday, flying into London Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham airports, in addition to scheduled flights to the UK.

British authorities announced on Wednesday evening they believe the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Sinai on Saturday could have been caused by an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) bomb aboard the plane. As a result, the British Foreign Office called for all flights to be grounded.

LIVE UPDATES: Russian passenger jet crash: Search area in Sinai expanded

More than 20,000 British tourists are currently stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh.

A statement from the travel company Thomas Cook on Thursday morning said the suspensions of flights had come into “immediate effect.”

“In light of the change to travel advice, Thomas Cook has canceled its flight and holiday program to Sharm el-Sheikh up to and including Thursday 12 November 2015.”

It said the safety of customers was “our absolutely priority” and all holidaymakers would be able to stay in their accommodation free of charge.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told ITV News that “special measures” to bring stranded tourists back to Britain would begin Friday.

“These are special additional measures, not necessarily something that we could do on a sustainable basis but something that we will put in as a short term special measure to get back home the people who are there now,” he said.

But he added that normal services would take much longer to resume due to increased security measures.

“That could take days, it could take weeks ... it depends on the experts,” he said.

“But in terms of the short-term emergency measures, the airline industry is indicating that they expect by tomorrow to be in a position to start bringing people out with those measures in place.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Hammond said: “We will do whatever is necessary. If we have to send in additional personnel, additional equipment, if we have to have unusual handling for returning those flights, we will do so, regardless of the cost, regardless of the delay, regardless of the inconvenience.”

Asked to substantiate British and US claims the plane had been brought down by a bomb planted by Islamic State, Hammond said: “Some intelligence we can share, some we can’t. But we reached this decision on the basis of a review of all the information – intelligence is one part of it, but there’s open-source information, there’s contextual background information – and we’ve reached a conclusion.

“What we are sharing with all our partners is our conclusion. And I expect during the course of today you will see more and more of those partners looking at our conclusions and listening to our explanations and deciding that they too want to take a precautionary approach.”

Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the COBRA emergency committee on Thursday morning to discuss ways to rescue the stranded tourists.

The meeting was followed by a statement from Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin in the House of Commons.

“We cannot categorically say why the Russian jet crashed but we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down as a result of an explosive device,” said McLoughlin.

“Safety will always be the priority and that is why the Prime Minister last night called President Sisi to express concern and to ensure that the tightest possible security arrangements were put in place at Sharm el-Sheikh.

“As a precautionary measure we have decided that flights due to leave Sharm el-Sheikh this evening for the UK will be delayed and that will allow us time to ensure the right security measures are in place for flights.”

“There have been already people sent out from the United Kingdom today to review the security arrangements at the airport.

“That is taking place. It is when that review is completed that we will allow the flights that are there tonight to depart.”

Cameron reportedly did not consult the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, before taking the unilateral decision on grounding flights. Sisi has arrived in the UK for pre-planned talks, which are likely to be marred by last night’s decision. 

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that a “small number” of military personnel are en route to the holiday destination.