afrol News, 5 January - After Saturday's charter plane crash, killing 148 people in Egypt's holiday resort Sharm el-Sheikh, there is increased focus on the security of the Egyptian airliner, Flash Airlines. It was not the first time the aircraft had technical problems.
Most of the victims were French families that had spent Christmas at the Egyptian Red Sea resort. Therefore, French authorities are to assist in the Egyptian investigations into the crash. French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien already has announced that a terror attack is almost completely ruled out.
- The explanations so far indicate that the aircraft simply lost its engine power, Minister de Robien told the press yesterday. French theories indicate that one of the engines short-circuited.
Focus so far has been on technical details and on security routines as Flash Airlines has had to answer to accusations over poor maintenance. The Egyptian airliner has been rented by several European charter companies to transport tourists to and from Sharm el Sheikh during the last years.
Flash Airlines was targeted by Swiss aviation authorities for lack of safety and for the last year has been denied flying over or landing in Switzerland. An inspection in Switzerland in October 2002 had disclosed several breaches of security provisions.
While Flash Airlines Chairman Mohamed Nour said on Sunday that a financial disagreement with a Swiss agency, not safety, had been the problem, Swiss aviation authorities today denied this. The Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation today reiterated that the plane had been banned from Swiss airspace "because there were safety problems. ... It is not a financial problem."
French aviation authorities late yesterday also admitted to have received a warning from their Swiss colleagues regarding safety on Flash Airlines. Minister de Robien however pointed out that three safety checks were carried out by French authorities as a reaction to the warning.
Press investigations in Europe conclude that this is not the only incident regarding safety on Flash Airlines. In Norway, two charter operators told the national news agency 'NTB' they had stopped using Flash Airlines last year "after complaints" from customers. Norwegian aviation authorities received several security complaints on Flash Airlines but claimed to be "incapable to react".
Flash Airline representatives in Cairo however feel that the focus on security on their aircraft is turning into a witch hunt. They maintain that international security and maintenance standard had been respected.
According to Flash Airlines, the plane that crashed on Saturday had a new engine installed last March - this being a sign it had been properly maintained. Further, the company's aircrafts were equipped with the latest navigational instruments.
Also regular maintenance was said to be more than sufficient. The accident aircraft was regularly serviced in Norway, where it earlier had been based. In 2002, the plane was totally dismantled at Braathens' service centre on Stavanger Airport (Norway), Norwegian aviation authorities confirm. Braathens however say the service didn't include an engine inspection.
Meanwhile, in Sharm el Sheikh, holiday life goes on almost normally among European tourists while a French-Egyptian team is searching for bodies and aircraft parts in a submarine just off the coast. Local and international tourism operators are relieved, after all, that the crash had not been a terrorist attack. That would have been a much more serious blow to the industry.
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