5 things to know about EgyptAir, and the airports involved in the hijack crisis

The EgyptAir Airbus A-320 on the tarmac of Larnaca airport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus on March 29, 2016.
The EgyptAir Airbus A-320 on the tarmac of Larnaca airport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus on March 29, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

A man thought to be strapped with explosives hijacked an EgyptAir plane on a flight between Alexandria and Cairo on Tuesday (March 29) and forced it to land in Cyprus.

Flight 181, an Airbus320, had 56 passengers and eight crew on board.

After the plane landed at Larnaca airport, the hijacker released all the people onboard except four foreign passengers and the crew, EgyptAir said.

Here's more about EgyptAir, and the airports involved in the crisis.

1. Past hijacking cases

A bloody hijacking of an EgyptAir flight left more than 50 dead in 1985.

A Palestinian guerilla group hijacked an EgyptAir plane in the air between Athens and Cairo, and forced it to land at Malta. Egyptian commandoes flew in and stormed the plane, starting a battle that left 59 dead, most of them passengers.

In 1996, three Egyptian hijackers forced an EgyptAir plane carrying 145 people to fly to Libya, but surrendered five hours later.

2. Egypt's national carrier

EgyptAir was started in 1933 as Misr Airwork, and was renamed a few times before becoming EgyptAir in 1971. Misr is the Egyptian name of the country.

It is Egypt's national carrier and is based out of Cairo International Airport.

It has been a member of the Star Alliance since 2008 and has codeshare agreements with several carriers, including Singapore Airlines.

Skytrax rates EgyptAir a three-star airline - a rating for an "average"airline with some inconsistency in their standards.

3. Major crashes

The airlines has had two fatal incidents in the last two decades.

One major crash the airline suffered was in 1999 when EgyptAir flight 990, en route from New York to Cairo, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after take-off, killing all 217 on board.

An analysis of the black boxes showed the pilot caused the accident. The Egyptian authorities rejected pilot suicide, disputing, among other things, the interpretation of what he said in the black box recording.

In 2002, an EgyptAir Boeing 735 crashlanded near Tunis with more than 60 people on board. Fifteen were killed.

4. Security concerns at Egypt airports

The hijacking dealt a new blow to Egypt's efforts to project an image of stability to tourists five months after the downing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai peninsula, claimed by Islamic State.

Concerns about lax security at Egypt airports were heightened after suspicions that a bomb smuggled on board caused a Russian plane flying from Sharm el-Sheikh airport to crash in the Sinai desert in October last year, killing 224.

X-ray and explosive-detection equipment used to scan baggage is out of date, poorly maintained or poorly operated by inadequately trained staff members, a New York Times report said, quoting European officials.

Egypt said in December last year that it appointed a global consultancy firm, Control Risks, to review security at its airports.

5. Cyprus airport hijack crises

Several hijacked planes were diverted to the Larnaca airport in the 1970s and 1980s, AFP reported.

In 1988, a Kuwait Airways flight hijacked en route from Bangkok to Kuwait was diverted to Mashhad and later to Larnaca, where hijackers killed two Kuwaiti passengers and dumped their bodies on the tarmac.

In February 1978, an Egyptian commando unit stormed a hijacked Cyprus Airways DC-8 at Larnaca airport, where 15 passengers were being held hostage. Some 15 Egyptian soldiers were killed and 15 wounded. All the hostages were freed and the hijackers arrested.