Anger in the community after leaked letter shows UK government – not the airline – was responsible for more security and longer journeys from Cyprus to London
By Michael Daventry
A furious row erupted in Britain’s Turkish Cypriot community this week after Pegasus flight times from North Cyprus to the UK were lengthened by increased security measures at Istanbul.
Passengers flying between Ercan in North Cyprus and London’s Stansted airport are being forced to disembark and go through security in the terminal when their flight arrives for a short layover in Turkey, causing longer journey times.
The dispute broke out over who ordered the new security measures, with prominent Turkish Cypriots accusing the UK government for requesting the measures for political reasons.
The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) and Conservative parliamentary candidate David Burrowes both told this newspaper last week that the decision to introduce an additional layer of security was taken exclusively by Pegasus Airlines.
But a leaked letter published on a Turkish aviation website on Tuesday showed UK officials – including Richard Moore, the British ambassador to Turkey – have been lobbying Pegasus to alter its flights for several months.
Britain has no diplomatic relations with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, meaning planes cannot fly directly and any flights must first call at an airport in mainland Turkey.
Cypriot passengers had previously been able to remain in their seats and wait for the aircraft to continue on the London leg of its flight, but Pegasus announced this system was abolished on Thursday 1 June.
Zehra Başaran, the Turkish Cypriot representative in London, told Haber last week that the decision was “another link in the chain of embargoes imposed on the Turkish Cypriot people”.
“It is another hardship on a human level and the Turkish Cypriot people are complaining about this.”
Who ordered it?
David Burrowes, the Conservative party’s general election candidate in Enfield Southgate, an area of north London home to many Cypriots, told Haber last week that he had spoken to minsters at the DfT and had been told the change to flights was Pegasus’s decision.
A DfT spokeswoman repeated the same position when contacted by Haber last week.
But the leaked letter to Pegasus from the DfT, published on the Turkish aviation website Airport Haber, shows the UK officials requested additional layover security four months ago.
It says the matter was raised during a meeting between the airline and the British ambassador on 15 February because “we have no visibility of the [security] screening applied in Ercan”.
As Britain does not have relations with North Cyprus, the two jurisdictions cannot collaborate on security issues.
It continues: “We therefore now request that all such passengers, along with their hold-loaded and cabin baggage originating from Northern Cyprus, as well as any cargo loaded in the hold, are re-screened at Turkish mainland airports, to the same standard and practice as any other UK-bound flight from Turkey.”
Additional security request
UK government sources told Haber this week that they had made a request, not a directive, and that Pegasus was free to reject it.
But it was not clear whether Pegasus would have faced further implications – such as the lifting of its UK landing licence – if it had refused the request.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman told Haber they did not comment on leaked documents.
“We keep aviation security under constant review but for obvious reasons we do not comment on specific security procedures at individual airports,” she said.
Mr Burrowes told Haber that he would arrange a meeting between the UK government, Pegasus and the Turkish Cypriot community if he was elected on Thursday.
“This is not an issue determined by politicians or Government ministers but a security measure from officials which is being implemented by airlines. All airlines are subject to these measures for flights from Turkey to the UK.
“After the election, we need to find a way which respects the need for security and also the needs of passengers who face delays and inconvenience.
“I will also ensure representatives visit Ercan airport to discuss the situation.”
Pegasus Airlines did not respond to Haber’s repeated requests for comment.