Saturday January 3rd 2003, a Flash Airlines Boeing 737-300 airliner, carrying 135 passengers and a crew of 13, crashed in the Red Sea shortly after departure from Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt. There were no survivors. Newsreports indicate all but two of the passengers were French nationals, and many were families with children - the airline is a charter-airline which flies for various package-tour companies to holiday-resorts in Egypt. The aircraft was headed for Kairo for refueling, before proceeding to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
The cause of the crash has not been determined with certainty yet, but both Egyptian and French authorities have already firmly concluded that there was no terrorism involved. Newsreports have suggested Egyption investigators believe that the aircraft experienced a fire in one of its engines shortly after departure, and attempted to return to the airport, but that the fire caused the fueltanks to explode - whether this will be the final conclusion of the ivestigation is not now certain.
The aircraft was one of two 737-300 operated by Flash Airlines - both had previously been used by now-defunct Norwegian low-fares airline Color Air. My understanding is that Flash Airlines did not own the aircraft, but dryleased them from the owner, just as Color Line did. It had its last complete structure and components control at Sola Airport, Stavanger, Norway, last year, this job being done on contract by the maintenance-division of Norwegian airline Braathens - the cost of the job was around NOK 20 million (ca. USD 3 million) for the two aircraft, and each aircraft spent roughly two months in the shop. The engines were not part of the check, this being the job of another contractor. There seems no reason to question the quality of the job done - Braathens is an established airline with good safety-record.
It seems from newsreports that safety-procedures in the airline itself were rather dodgy - the airline has for some time been denied access to Swiss airspace, due to this. Flash Airlines was at one point used by two Norwegian package-tour holiday-companies - Natureventyr and Pyramidene Reiser - but following passengercomplaints, they have both gone over to using Lotus Air, which uses Airbus A320 aircraft. The below letter of complaint was sent by a Norwegian passenger following a package-tour with the holiday-company Pyramidene Reiser, and was directed at Luftfartstilsynet, the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority, which has now been renamed Avinor.
Complaint concerning lacking safetyprocedures in Flash Airlines
The undersigned and my family flew with Flash Airlines (touroperator being Pyramidene Reiser) to Sharm el Sheik in Egypt on July 11 2002, returning July 25 2002.
I do not have any pilot's training, but I have travelled regularly since 1981, taking 10-25 jobrelated flights and 2-4 private-purpose flights annually. I have travelled with a very large number of different airlines. I have never previously felt any need to complain over safety-related problems with any airline.
Upon departure from Oslo Airport Gardermoen July 11 2002, the aircraft received pushback from gate before all passengers had found their seats. I estimate that between 15 and 20 passengers were standing at this time. The overhead luggagebins were also open. After pushback there were still some passengers standing in the aisle.
The aircraft immediately began taxying while the last passengers took their seats, and the cabincrew took a round of closing the luggagebins. A safety-demonstration was performed, but nobody controlled that all passengers had fastened seatbelts. The aircraft began takeoff before all cabincrew had taken their seats, but they managed to sit before the aircraft was in the air.
I was in seat 16B. My seat was completely sat-down, with loose and wornthrough seat-pillow. In reality I was sitting on the frame of the seat. The folding-table for seat 16A could not be secured in the folded-up position. I was keeping it in the up-position during takeoff.
The cabin gave a general impression of poor maintenance and heavy wear, though not worse than what I have seen with a couple of now bankrupt US airlines.
The aircraft was very delayed to Oslo Airport Gardermoen, supposedly due to maintenance in Kairo. We originally were supposed to have taken off at 14:00, but did not take off until 21:00.
Upon return from Sharm, the aircraft was 2 hours delayed to Sharm (it arrived from Kairo), supposedly due to maintenance. I was in seat 18B on the return flight. The airline had during the two weeks that had passed between the flights replaced some seats in the cabin with newer (not new) seats. The colours indicated that there were two "seat-generations" in the cabin, whereof the lightest-coloured seats apparently were oldest.
As soon as the aircraft's door was closed, the aircraft began taxying (there is no push-back in Sharm). Passengers were still standing, and almost all the overhead luggagebins were still open. The pilot used liberal amounts of engine-power during the taxying, and I have never experience faster taxying on a taxiway. The cabincrew became very rushed, and eventually managed to seat all passengers.
The passenger on the seat behind me (19B) discovered that his seat did not have a seatbelt. Her husband / cohabitant / boyfriend called at the cabincrew, which arrived with a cardboard-box of spare belts. While this happened, the cabincrew attempted to hold a safety-demonstration, but only managed to point out emergency-exits and that the aircraft had lifejackets, before the Captain initiated takeoff. They did not have time to attach a seatbelt to seat 19B, so one of the cabincrew offered to hold the passenger in seat 19B secure during takeoff. He (the crew-member) thus remained sitting in the aisle outside row 19 until the aircraft was at cruise-altitude.
We stopped over in Kairo for a refuel. On other airlines I have experience that passengers are asked to unfasten seatbelts while refueling is taking place. This did not happen on Flash Airlines.
Refueling took roughly 25 minutes - as the groundcrew had problems attaching the fuel-hose to the starboard wing of the aircraft. After this we remained on ground - with no information - for another one hour and 35 minutes, in a temperature of 35-40 degrees centigrade (95-105 Fahrenheit), with no aircondition. During this period there was a steady strem of Flash Airlines personnel aboard the aircraft. This culminated with one person with a spotless light blue boilersuit and an instrument-case came aboard with three clerk-type employees. The "boilersuit" sat about 20 minutes in the cockpit with a closed door, before we were informed that we would takeoff as soon as we received clearance from the tower. When asking if the aircraft had mechanical problems, this was denied, and we were informed that the delays were caused by the tower in Kairo.
During the two hours we were on ground, there was a varying number of persons under the port wing. Some probably stood there to get in the shade, while two men showed great interest for a spot roughly 1-2 metres (3-7 feet) outboard of the port engine on the wing's underside. The Captain also was outside checking the same spot. There appeared to be some discussion on what they saw.
We took off from Kairo with all passengers seated, luggagebins closed, and received a correct safety-demonstration. Thereafter it was impossible to get any information from the cabincrew on how far we were come, and when we could expect touchdown. Eventually we were informed that the cabincrew though we would touchdown at ca. 17:00, but the guide from Pyramidene Reiser though this might be Egyption time (one timezone East of CET). At ca. 15:30 we were told to fasted seatbelts for landing on Gardermoen airport, and landed about 25 minutes later. This was the only information received from cockpit.
The deviations from stnadard safetyprocedures which I observed were by themselves not likely to cause a fatal accident. On the other hand, I observed faults and lacks at most of the routines I had access to observe. This makes me question how the airlines handles other safetyissues.
This nagging feeling that also other things could be wrong, combined with the complete absence of information to the passengers, made me concerned during the entire return-flight from Sharm. I have furthermore given Pyramidene Reiser a clear response concerning my views of Flash Arilines.
I request that the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority controls whether those faults and lacks I observed with Flash Airlines are symptoms of basic safetyfailures which can endanged the life and health of passengers.
With friendly regards,
This letter is translated from the original version in Norwegian, published online by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten here.
The Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority did inspect the airline after having received the above quoted letter, but did not find serious faults with the airline's safety-documentation, pilots' certificates, or safety-equipment. As the airline is registered outside of the EU/EEA, the access to inspect is limited to when the aircraft is on the ground within an inspecting authority's jurisdiction, and it is not subject to the regular inspections that aircraft registered in the EU/EEA undergo.