NEW: Flights from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula to the United Kingdom will resume Friday with tighter security
Sharm el-Sheikh Airport security is being scrutinized after last week's crash that killed 224
Flights from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport to the United Kingdom will resume Friday with new security measures in place, the British prime minister’s office said late Thursday.
Passengers will only be allowed to carry hand baggage onto the plane, with other luggage transported separately, the prime minister’s office said in a statement. The statement didn’t explain how passengers would be reunited with their luggage.
“Outbound flights from the UK to Sharm el-Sheikh remain suspended and the Foreign Office continues to advise against all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm el-Sheikh airport but we are continuing to work with the Egyptians to get back to normal service as soon as possible,” the statement said.
British and Irish officials had announced Wednesday that flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to their countries would be suspended because of concerns about security.
As authorities investigate the crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the airport where Metrojet Flight 9268 originated is facing new scrutiny.
U.S. intelligence assessments suggest someone planted a bomb on the plane before takeoff, multiple U.S. officials said Wednesday, and that someone inside Sharm el-Sheikh airport could have helped.
However, Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamel said it’s too early to make that suggestion.
“Regarding the hypothesis of having brought down the plane through an internal explosion, the investigation committee has not found any evidence or data that would confirm this hypothesis,” he said.
The small airport in the popular Red Sea resort sees about 160 flights daily, and while there’s a visible security presence, some who have traveled through there have said security appears lax.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that Egypt is providing sufficient security in the wake of the Russian airliner crash.
“We are cognizant of the interest and the concern and have provided additional security arrangements in all of our airports for the protection of our tourists and also to indicate that we are not failing any efforts.”
Six members of the British military are in Sharm el-Sheikh and are working with British government colleagues to assess security arrangements in place on the ground, a British ministry of defense spokesperson told CNN Thursday.
Egyptian officials said they’d earlier tightened security at all Egyptian airports in response to British concerns.
“Ten months ago, our British friends asked us to check the security measures at Sharm El-Sheikh airport. This is very normal,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Thursday in a news conference with UK Prime Minister David Cameron in London.
Kamel said Egyptian authorities are cooperating with the American FAA and the British by implementing further security measures.
“All Egyptian airports apply international security and safety standards. They are subject to routine checks from by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority and international monitoring authorities,” he said.
If an explosive device brought down the plane, the United States does not believe it was designed to get past airport security procedures – either passenger screening or other security measures — in Egypt, a U.S. official said.
Rather, it is believed whoever was behind it used a conventional bomb and took advantage of lax security or had someone complicit at the airport, the official said.
A British national security official said the British government is concerned about the airport because its experts have observed that security procedures are “poorly supervised” and “lack consistency.”
The airport has a reputation for being understaffed at security checkpoints, CNN safety analyst David Soucie said, and a website with passenger comments about their airport experience had complaints about security employees who stole items or acted rudely.
But Soucie also noted that the airport has stricter-than-average security checks for passengers, including putting all baggage through a barometric pressure device that would activate a bomb with altitude-sensitive detonators.
If a bombing were an inside job, however, it wouldn’t have been stopped by security measures the average airline passenger goes through, he said.
Security lapse in May
Like most airports in the world, Sharm el-Sheikh Airport doesn’t do a very good job of controlling access outside the terminals, Soucie said.
In May, a mentally disturbed man slipped through a hole in a wall and tampered with a plane, the Cairo Post reported, citing Egyptian newspaper Youm7.
The man approached a plane sitting on the runway and tried to open a door to the aircraft, the article said. He was arrested after moving a block in front of the plane’s wheel, the article said.
Operating in a tense region
Some airlines already avoid flying over the Sinai region, where ISIS-affiliated militants have been battling Egyptian security forces for the past few years.
Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Air Arabia, Etihad and flydubai have recently opted to reroute their flights to circumvent the area.
The European Aviation Safety Agency issued guidance for the region a year ago, when it warned civilian aircraft operators about a “significant risk” because of “ongoing insurgent activity” in North Sinai, and told airlines to not fly below 26,000 feet.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which controls U.S. airlines, issued similar guidance in March.
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Catherine E. Shoichet, Sarah Aarthun, Diana Magnay, Vasco Cotovio and Sarah Sirgany contributed to this report.