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Russia resumes flights to Egypt resorts after 6 years

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Almost six years after the bombing of an airliner that killed 224 Russians, Russia resumed flights to Egyptian Red Sea resorts on Monday.

A branch of the Islamic State group in Sinai claimed they downed the plane in October 2015, minutes after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh. At the time, Russian officials insisted that security procedures at Egyptian airports were inadequate.

With 300 tourists on board, EgyptAir flight MS724 took off early on Monday morning from Moscow. Hours later, the Airbus A300-330 landed in Hurghada, a popular Red Sea destination, Egypt’s national carrier said in a statement.

The Russian aircraft was greeted by a ceremonial “water salute” on touchdown, and Russian tourists, the majority of whom were wearing masks, were presented with flowers and balloons on disembarkation.

In a statement, EgyptAir said seven flights would be operated from Moscow to Hurghada and Sham el Sheikh in Egypt. According to EgyptAir, the first flight to Sharm el-Sheikh from Moscow would depart on Tuesday.

Ihab Nasr, Egypt’s ambassador to Russia, said a local TV station on Sunday that there would be 20 direct flights between Moscow and the two Red Sea resorts every week, and that Egyptian and Russian officials were discussing additional flights.

The Russian state aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, has cleared eight Russian airlines to operate flights to Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh from 43 cities across Russia. However, the list does not include St. Petersburg, the destination of the doomed Russian airliner downed over Sinai.

As of now, Rossiya, the subsidiary airline of Russia’s national flag carrier Aeroflot, appears to be the only Russian carrier offering scheduled flights from Moscow to both Red Sea resorts. On Monday afternoon, FV5361 landed in Hurghada with more than 500 Russian tourists aboard. Two hours later, Rossiya’s flight FV5633 landed in Sharm el-Sheikh, carrying over 500 tourists.

Other Russian airlines licensed to fly from Moscow to Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, such as Aeroflot’s low-cost subsidiary Pobeda and Russia’s largest privately-owned carrier S7 Airlines, do not have flights scheduled in the coming days, their websites show.

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The development comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin reversed his order to suspend flights after the 2015 disaster.

Flights between Moscow and Cairo resumed in April 2018 after Egyptian officials beefed up security at Cairo’s international airport, but talks about restoring direct air travel to Red Sea resorts had dragged on. In 2016, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi finally said the downing of the Russian airliner was a “terrorist attack.”

Russian Ambassador to Egypt Georgy Borisenko said Moscow didn’t take the decision to resume flights lightly.

“However, we ascertained that in recent years Egypt’s airports and resorts have dramatically increased security measures. Therefore, we expect that Russian tourists, who remember the traditional Egyptian hospitality well and miss the Red Sea very much, will have a safe and comfortable stay,” Borisenko was quoted by the state RIA Novosti news agency as saying.

Britain, another major source of visitors to Egypt which had also suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh in the wake of the bombing, lifted its restrictions in October 2019.

An attack in 2015 was a serious blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which was also adversely affected by the unrest following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Since then, Egypt has spent millions of dollars improving airport security in order to convince Moscow to change its position.

The return of flights will be vital for Egypt’s tourism sector, which has taken another hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. Authorities have kept looser restrictions in Red Sea towns, trying to attract foreign visitors. However, they have mandated vaccinations for tourists at Red Sea resorts, although a vaccination campaign has lagged elsewhere in Egypt. In the meantime, all foreign visitors must show a negative PCR result and wear facemasks.

Prior to the ban, Russians were the top visitors to Egypt in 2014. There were approximately 3 million of them in 2014.

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