Moscow (AFP) – Russia and Egypt are to resume direct flights on Wednesday following a more than two-year hiatus after a bomb downed a Russian charter over the Sinai peninsula in 2015.
Moscow officials stopped direct flights citing security concerns after the attack, in a major blow for the Egyptian economy, which relies heavily on tourism and had been a popular destination for Russians.
On Wednesday evening an Aeroflot plane is due to take off from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport to Cairo, in a first step towards restoring flights to holiday destinations on the Red Sea.
On Thursday, Egyptair will restart its service between the two capitals, and the two companies will together carry out five return flights between Moscow and Cairo a week.
But the move in itself will not immediately help Egypt’s troubled tourism sector, Russian officials have said.
“Tourists do not need direct flights to Cairo. The transfer from Cairo to sea resorts is long and uncomfortable, and no one will be going there in that way,” Russian Tourism Industry spokeswoman Irina Tyurina told AFP.
“In practice, the situation is the same as it was before, when people would get there independently via Minsk or Istanbul — either big fans of Egypt or Russians who live there,” she said.
“Egypt is not yet back as a tourist destination for the Russian market.”
– ‘A great worry’ –
Flights were suspended at the end of 2015 after a bomb downed a flight carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, killing all 224 people on board, mostly Russian tourists.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group.
The number of foreign tourists in Egypt went from 14.7 million in 2010 to 5.4 million in 2016, on the back of the suspension of flights and the turmoil following the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
In 2017 that number recovered to 8.3 million visitors, according to official figures.
Revenues from tourism at the same time dropped by two thirds, from $11.6 billion in 2010 to $3.8 billion in 2016, according to the Egyptian Central Bank.
Moscow and Cairo are to decide on a date to discuss the resumption of flights to Egyptian tourist destinations once flights between the two capitals have resumed, the Egyptian ambassador to Russia Ihab Nasr has said.
Russian officials have meanwhile not hidden their concerns about direct flights being restarted.
“The resumption of direct flights to Egypt, in particular to resort areas, is a great worry for us,” Aleksandr Neradko, head of the Russian Federal Air Navigation Authority, said last week in comments reported by Russian agencies.
Eight Russian experts will be sent to Cairo airport to check security measures are being enforced on flights towards Moscow, according to the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram.