Since June 1st, passengers flying Pegasus between North Cyprus and the UK have been forced to undergo a new security regime that requires them to get off the plane and be re-screened in Turkey.
The new measures have been forced on Cyprus’ largest tourist carrier by UK authorities concerned about a growing range of security threats and a lack of “visibility” of Ercan Airport, based in the internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.
As a result, passengers travelling to and from the UK via Ercan will not simply touch down as before. They must now leave their plane, enter the Turkish airport and undergo a further security check, before exiting and boarding another aircraft to complete their journey.
Pegasus say luggage will move from one hold to the other without passenger involvement. But the added change-over is already causing significant hardship for young families, the elderly and disabled, and creating considerably longer flight times: where it used to be a 45-minute touch-down, the airline’s website now shows one and for some flights up to three hours delay between the two legs of the journey.
The British authorities insist the added passenger inconvenience is for their protection, but leading Turkish Cypriot community groups have complained about the lack of precise information.
Concerns over the impending changes were first raised by Leyla Kemal, chair of the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations UK (CTCA UK), in a letter to the TRNC Tourism Minister Fikri Ataoğlu on 2nd May.
No response from TRNC Government or London office in over a month
In it, Mrs Kemal outlined the huge difficulties passengers with young children and those in a wheelchair will face, as well as her fears that the new transit rule will drive travellers to “choose 4-hour long direct flights from South Cyprus” over the vastly longer flights to Ercan.
She added, “We fully believe in TRNC tourism and, just as tourism is taking off, this new measure will poleaxe our tourism sector,” calling on the Minister to do whatever was needed to overturn it. Mrs Kemal told T-VINE that she has yet to receive a response from Mr Ataoğlu.
Pegasus Airline’s tactics have also come under fire. Despite multiple requests for information from media and passengers, the airline has steadfastly refused to respond. Nor will it publish the original letter sent to the airline by the British authorities, which would give greater clarity on the roots of the issue, and the reasons why the airline has chosen to apply the new transit rule in both directions, when apparently the security measures are only for flights from North Cyprus to the UK.
Pegasus faces “growing anger and frustration” over its silence
Now Sinem Arıca, chairwoman of the influential Turkish Women’s Philanthropic Association (TWPA) in London has written to Pegasus underlining her members’ “deep alarm and dismay” at the changes.
Pointing to the large number of passengers who use their North Cyprus-UK flights, Mrs Arıca expresses concern about the “lack of communication between the airline and its customer base, resulting in growing anger and frustration in some quarters”. She states it is “disappointing that the airline has failed to engage this important audience” before the busy tourist season.
Querying the reasons behind the clamp-down, and also what Pegasus’ refund policy is for passengers wanting to change their bookings to another carrier, Mrs Arıca adds: “A responsible business that cares for its passengers and reputation should be able to perceive such communication needs, and act pro-actively to issue full and timely information.”
Former RAF head: “What is absolutely clear is that there is no security reason to change aircraft on flights from UK to Ercan”
She is supported by the island’s foremost aviator, none other than Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon, GCB, OBE. T-VINE spoke to the former head of the Royal Air Force, who regularly travels to Cyprus, in advance of the new transit rule coming into force on Thursday, who told us:
“The recent changes to Pegasus flight schedules operating from Ercan to the UK via Turkey will present problems to passengers, many of whom are elderly and disabled. There are questions to be asked of Pegasus about these changes, not least if Pegasus flights from UK to Ercan are also being subjected to the same changes, and questions to the UK authorities on security matters at Ercan and solutions to concerns they may have.”
“There are also questions to airlines such as Turkish Airlines and Atlasglobal as to whether their aircraft change in Istanbul on flights Ercan to U.K. is driven by scheduling and fleet management rather than security.”
“What is absolutely clear is that there is no security reason to change aircraft on flights from UK to Ercan via Turkish airfields.”
Landmark High Court ruling allows UK-TRNC co-operation over crime prevention
Critics say this new transit rule could be easily overcome if the UK’s Home Office renewed its policy of monitoring Ercan’s training and security systems, as it did until 2014.
A recent UK High Court decision concerning British police chasing criminals who had fled to North Cyprus stated that the TRNC’s international status in no way prevented co-operation with the UK at the domestic level.
The aspect was picked up the Association of Turkish Cypriots Abroad (ATCA) in their letter to Transport Minister Chris Grayling. Penned by the group’s TRNC Representative Kerem Hassan, the letter expressed ATCA’s dismay at the new transit rule that is “increasing the injustices against the Turkish Cypriots”, and highlighted the need for “the UK and Turkish Cypriot authorities to work together in every field, which does not constitute political recognition.”
Pointing to the High Court’s landmark ruling in February 2017, they remind Mr Grayling that cooperation between British and Turkish Cypriot police forces over fugitives was not forbidden by “any clause of domestic law”, and that “such cooperation, rather than additional restrictions causing hardship for all passengers, especially elderly, disabled and those with young children using Ercan airport, would be the better way to handle any such concern”.
“We see no sense in Her Majesty’s Government supporting the UN-led Talks if they sabotage progress that has been made over the years”
Ersu Ekrem, chairman of the British Turkish Cypriot Association (BTCA), also queried the whole basis of the new controls. Backed by 22 other Turkish Cypriot NGOs in the UK, Mr Ekrem stated the timing of the new transit rule “will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the ongoing UN talks.”
Seeing this latest move as just an extension of the present embargoes imposed on the TRNC by the international community, chairman Ekrem asks why the UK has never fulfilled its 2004 pledge to end these embargoes, after Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the Annan Plan to unify the island.
He also asks Minister Grayling – given Great Britain’s role as Guarantor of the 1960 Treaty of Independence – whether any thought has been given to solving security problems at Ercan by sending UK Anti-Terrorist officers to advise and upgrade the present arrangements, if that proves necessary.
Mr Ekrem calls the Transport Department’s call for the changes “baseless and contradictory”, adding: “We see no sense in Her Majesty’s Government supporting the UN-led Talks if they sabotage progress that has been made over the years”.