The wider ramifications of the EgyptAir crash

The wider ramifications of the EgyptAir crash

The crash of EgyptAir flight 804 underscores the elevated risks faced by the Egyptian tourist sector. It also highlights the heightened security concerns over potential terrorist attacks in European airports.

In the early hours of May 19th EgyptAir flight 804 crashed in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea approximately midway between the Greek island of Kastellorizo and the Egyptian coast. The aircraft was flying between Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Cairo International Airport and carried 66 people on board, all of whom are believed to be dead.

Investigations concerning the causes of the crash are ongoing and so far none of the participating authorities issued any definite statement concerning the exact reason of the incident. While searches for the black boxes are underway multiple theories have surfaced. Speculations over a potential terrorist attack remain the most plausible and raise further concerns over air travel security. Initial findings support these allegations, indicating that the incident was potentially triggered by an internal explosion at the level of the cockpit.

A terrorist attack on a flight from a European airport, less than two months after the deadly bombings in Brussels, could have far-reaching implications. While no terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the crash is likely to further weaken Egypt’s tourism sector. On the other hand, it raises additional questions over the security of western European airports.

EgyptAir the latest blow for Egypt’s tourism sector

Heightened terrorism fears is the last thing Egypt’s tourism sector needs. A vital branch of the economy, Egyptian tourism firms already suffered high losses in 2015. According to data released by the BBC, the sector accounts for approximately $50 billion or 15% of the national GDP.

The ongoing Sunni extremist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula along with a string of terrorist attacks in Cairo and violent unrest nationwide have led to a major decrease in tourist numbers. In the second half of 2015, the tourist arrivals in Egypt fell by 50% and hotels saw a decrease of more than two thirds in the number of bookings.

A major turning point for Egyptian tourism was the downing of Metrojet Flight 9268 in October 2015. The Islamic State Sinai branch claimed responsibility for the bombing and issued a statement claiming that it had been conducted by planting an explosive device in the aircraft. The attack left 224 dead and raised major questions concerning the state of airport security in Egypt, especially in the once buzzing tourist hub of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The fact that EgyptAir flight 804 (a domestic carrier) crashed in the eastern Mediterranean, underscores the specific will by militants to target Egyptian assets with the strategic intent to further weaken the country’s economy. While investigations remain ongoing, these assertions will only remain hypotheses. However, the fear prompted by terrorist groups’ threat to Egypt’s tourism sector is likely to continue to result in tourists avoiding the country.

Heightened costs, delays for European airports

Since the bombing of Moscow’ Domodedovo airport in January 2011, European security officials have increasingly been worried of potential attacks against major air transportation facilities. The March 22nd suicide attacks in Brussels came as a stark reminder of the Islamist terrorist threat faced by airports in Europe.

Should the ongoing investigation conclude that the EgyptAir flight 804 crash was caused by a terrorist attack, it would security measures at western European airports will come under intense scrutiny. British security services are already planning to implement a new protocol to protect London’s Heathrow airport. These new procedures would include a “ring of steel” perimeter with checkpoints and identity controls similar to the Israeli system put in place at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.

Moreover, with less than two weeks before the Euro 2016 UEFA championship, French security services are also expected to increase the attention given to securing airports’ halls and access to runways. In addition, it is likely that enhanced controls will be gradually put in place for aircraft landing in European airports and coming from short layovers in third party countries.

In the foreseeable future, even if the EgyptAir flight 804 crash was caused by a terrorist attack, the incident is unlikely to have a strong impact on the European tourist and air travel sectors. However, the cost of implementing new security measures as well as the potential related travel delays in major air transportation hubs would negatively affect revenues for companies managing major airports.

About Author

Riccardo Dugulin

Riccardo Dugulin is an analyst at Drum Cussac, a global business risk consultancy. He specializes in supporting international organizations and large corporations operating in emerging markets by providing them with critical risk management intelligence. His regions of expertise are the Near East, the Gulf, North Africa and Continental Europe. He previously worked as project manager for a French medical assistance company. He gained field experience in the Middle East having worked for leading think tanks in Dubai and Beirut. Riccardo holds a Master in International Affairs from the Sciences Po – Paris and a Bachelor in Middle Eastern Studies from the same university. Follow him on Twitter @RiccardoDugulin.