Metrojet
A woman holds a candle as she attends a meeting to commemorate victims of a Russian airliner which crashed in Egypt, with flight number 7K9268 made of candles seen on the background, outside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Several major airlines have confirmed that they have stopped flying over the Egyptian airspace where a Russian commercial airliner crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 on board. The Airbus A321, which was operated by Russian airline Metrojet is believed to have broken up midair.

Lufthansa and Air France-KLM have decided to stop flying over the peninsular while the risks are being assessed. The plane crashed in the Hassana area, where an Islamic State (IS) local offshoot has been leading an insurgency against the Egyptian government. Jihadists from the so-called IS in Sinai have claimed responsibility for the crash but Moscow has so far dismissed these claims.

Even experts were sceptical that the militants in Sinai would have weapons capable of shooting down a plane at 31,000 feet, the height the Airbus was flying before it crashed. However, it was noted that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was flying at 33,000 feet when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all on board as well.

Aleksandr Neradko, the head of Russia's Air Transport Agency said that "all signs attest to the fact that the aircraft disintegrated in the air at a high altitude." The was confirmed by Victor Sorochenko, the head of Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee who said that although it was too early to establish a concrete reason why the plane plummetted, the aircraft did break up in the air.

"The destruction happened in the air, and fragments were scattered over a large area of around 20 square kilometers," he said. Sorochenko however added: "It's too early to talk about conclusions."

EasyJet spokesman has confirmed that its airplanes are not flying over the north and central Sinai conflict zone. "As has been the case sometime before yesterday's incident, easyJet like other UK airlines does not fly over northern and central Sinai, the area of incident."

The budget airline however said that it plans to continue to operate to Egypt to carry holidaymakers as planned to and from Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada but will continue to actively review the situation. "Those passengers who don't want to fly will be offered an alternative flight or a flight voucher," the spokesman added.

British Airways planes flying to and from Sharm el-Sheikh is believed to be following a similar route along the Gulf of Suez, although the airline would not confirm this, the Guardian says. "We do not discuss the details of individual routes but we would not fly a route unless it was safe to do. The safety of our customers is always the number one priority."

In December 2014, the Department of Transport told airlines to avoid flying below 25,000 feet over norther Sinai. The caution was reissued in September this year.

Cameron offers condolences to Putin

Prime Minister David Cameron had called on President Vladimir Putin on 1 November to express his condolences over the plane crash and offered any help to establish the reasons behind the crash. A Downing Street spokesman said that Putin welcomed Cameron's offer but said that Russian experts were already in Sinai working with the Egyptians. The analysis of the black box recovered would be the next step in the investigations.