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Fear of flying hits home
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 04 - 10 - 2001

Egypt's national carrier is fighting to survive the combined effects of the terrorist attacks in the US and the threat of war in the region. Amira Ibrahim reports
The national airline, EgyptAir, stopped flights to Los Angeles on Sunday and said the decision was made for security reasons. "Flying through the US airspace is quite risky at present," stated an EgyptAir source. "It is difficult for pilots to fly under such pressure, being monitored by F-15s and F-16s and could be, for any mistake, shot down" added the source who spoke to Al- Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity.
The US Federal Aviation Administration warned pilots that they could be forced to land -- or even be shot down by military planes -- if they enter restricted airspace.
Before the 11 September attacks, only the US President could authorise the downing of commercial jets and pilots who flew into off-limits areas first faced a warning from air traffic control and then would be fined or could lose their licence.
The source recalled an incident two weeks ago when an American passenger jet lost radio communication with the control tower during a domestic flight and was about to be shot down.
EgyptAir tried resuming its original flight schedule to the US one week after the attacks. However, now it has suspended its three weekly flights to Los Angeles. EgyptAir at present only operates two flights a week between Cairo and New York.
The national airline has cancelled all flights to Pakistan and Yemen mainly because of the security situation and the low number of passengers. A plan to increase the number of flights to Japan was halted and the national carrier maintained one flight every week. State-owned EgyptAir, with a fleet of more than 42 planes, is one of the Middle East's leading carriers in terms of destination coverage -- up to 72 cities all over the world.
The aviation industry is among the sectors hardest hit by the attacks. Shortly after the US attacks, TWA shut its offices in Egypt and laid off 144 employees. Delta Airlines, which stopped its flights between Cairo and New York announced they would be resumed, but no confirmation has been forthcoming. Due to the global economic slowdown, world airlines announced that more than 200,000 employees lost their jobs.
But sources at EgyptAir said the company has not been hit as hard as some other international airlines and thus will not lay off any of its staff of over 22,000 employees.
Yet, EgyptAir has announced a 15 per cent reduction in its operations, while unofficial numbers cited a 30 per cent cut. A senior EgyptAir official said that some European flights reservations have dropped by 60 per cent.
"Some European countries requested a letter of guarantee for third-party coverage by either the company or the government before accepting flights by foreign airlines," commented the source.
Three Gulf carriers -- Gulf Air, Emirates and Kuwait Airways -- have each put up $2 billion in guarantees to maintain the operation of their fleets to Europe.
Aviation insurance companies in Egypt, trying to profit from the recent situation, demanded a ten-fold increase in the airline's premiums.
The Egyptian government disclosed a deal with international insurance companies to provide the national air carrier with war- risk insurance to ensure continued operation to destinations around the world.
Details of the deal have not been revealed, but sources said that an expansion of the insurance coverage in Egypt granted to those international companies could be the other part of the deal. Meanwhile, EgyptAir is studying the application of an insurance surcharge to meet the increased cost of insurance policies.
A source at the state- owned Misr Insurance Company, which insures the EgyptAir fleet, told the Weekly that a levy per flight coupon could be imposed according to destination and flight class.
"This will be studied in the light of what is to be decided by international insurance companies and international airlines," added the source.
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