UK travel company Thomas Cook has announced it has a number of flights planned to Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in November 2017, raising hopes for the revival of the Red Sea tourism sector which has been hit hard since the UK and Russia suspensded flights there following a Russian airliner crash in 2015.
"We currently have a number of flights planned to Sharm El Sheikh from November 2017. Currently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all travel into Sharm El Sheikh airport and if the advice doesn't change, all holidays this winter (2017/2018) will be cancelled," the travel group clarified through a note on their website.
The UK has suspended flights to Sharm El-Sheikh since November 2015 over security concerns after a Russian Metrojet airliner crashed over Egypt's Sinai in October that year, killing all 224 passengers who were mostly Russian holidaymakers.
"We advise against all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm El-Sheikh," a statement by the FCO reads.
The FCO adds that the British government is still working with Cairo to enable regular flights between the UK and Sharm el Sheikh to resume, and says it has been liaising with travel companies to make sure flights and holidays could resume as soon as appropriate security arrangements are in place.
Holidaymakers planning trips to the resort city for the winter season through Thomas Cook will be "refunded or able to amend flights free of charge" should the FCO's travel advice not change by May 2017.
The British company still provides vacations for British holidaymakers to the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada.
The group's update comes a few weeks after Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told British counterpart Borris Johnson that the UK's ongoing suspension of direct flights to Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh resort city was “unjustified and incomprehensible.”
Shoukry described Britain's decision to maintain the suspension as inconsistent with the country's repeated promises to support Egypt, especially given Cairo's achievements in improving airport security according to measures agreed on by the two countries and international standards of airport security.
Egyptian tourism, a pillar of the country's economy and a key source of hard currency, has taken a blow since the Russian airliner crash.
Sharm El-Sheikh's economy is believed to have suffered the most, especially given Moscow's decision to maintain its flight ban.
The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for downing the Russian jet. Egyptian investigations into the cause of the crash are still ongoing.
A number of European countries that had suspended flights or introduced restrictions for travel to Sharm El-Sheikh in 2015 have since lifted their suspensions.
In late January, Cairo convinced Berlin to lift its remaining restrictions on flights to the resort city, which had maintained some extra insurance requirements on German airlines flying there.
Germany lifted its general flight ban in May 2016. In November, Sharm El-Sheikh’s airport received a German flight carrying 144 tourists, putting an end to the one-year travel ban.
The UK -- a major source of tourists for Egypt -- has yet to follow suit. Russia has also yet to lift its flight ban, despite numerous inspections of Egyptian airports by Russian aviation security experts.
Cairo and Moscow are set to sign an aviation safety protocol to monitor the adoption of airport safety measures, as part of a series of steps to pave the way for the restoration of flights between the two countries after a more than year-long suspension.
Egypt’s revenues from tourism dropped from $6.1 billion in 2015 to $3.4 billion in 2016, according to statements by central bank Governor Tarek Amer in January.
The number of tourists visiting the country dropped by 50 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to the previous year, according to Egypt's tourism authority.