Russia has resumed flights to Egyptian resorts on the Red Sea, after a ban that had lasted around six years following the bombing of a Russian airliner that killed the 224 people onboard.
The local branch of the Islamic State group said it downed the plane over Sinai in October 2015, shortly after the aircraft took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. This caused the Russian officials to insist that security procedures at Egyptian airports were insufficient.
“Early yesterday morning, EgyptAir flight MS724 took off from Moscow with 300 tourists. Hours later, the Airbus A300-330 landed in Hurghada, a popular Red Sea destination,” Egypt’s national carrier said in a statement.
The Russian plane was welcomed by a ceremonial “water salute” on touchdown and Russian tourists, most of them wearing facemasks, were greeted with flowers and balloons upon disembarking.
The development comes a month after Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled his order suspending the 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 an “extremist attack.”
Russia’s ambassador to Egypt, Georgy Borisenko, stated that the decision to resume flights was not an easy one for Moscow.
“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.
The 2015 attack was a serious blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which was also affected by the unrest following its 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Egyptian authorities have since spent millions of dollars upgrading security at the country’s airports, hoping to get Moscow to change its mind.
It is believed that the resumption of flights will improve Egypt’s tourism sector, which was dealt another blow by the coronavirus pandemic over the past year. Authorities have kept looser restrictions in Red Sea towns, trying to attract foreign visitors. But they have mandated vaccinations for workers in the tourism sector in Red Sea resorts, though a vaccination campaign has been slow elsewhere in Egypt. All foreign visitors, however, have to show a negative PCR test and wear facemasks.
It was gathered that prior to the ban, Russians were the top visitors to Egypt, numbering about three million tourists in 2014.