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Air Service To Resume Between Russia, Egypt After Two-Year Suspension

Wreckage of a Russian plane bound for St. Petersburg that was bombed over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in 2015
Wreckage of a Russian plane bound for St. Petersburg that was bombed over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in 2015

Russia and Egypt are slated to resume direct flights on April 11 after a more than two-year suspension prompted by the bombing of a Russian charter plane over the Sinai Peninsula in 2015.

Moscow's move to ban flights for security reasons after the bombing, which killed all 224 people on board, dealt a blow to the Egyptian economy, which relies heavily on tourism and had been a popular holiday destination for Russians.

On the evening of April 11, an Aeroflot plane is due to take off from Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport to Cairo carrying about 120 passengers, in the first of the restored flights.

On April 12, EgyptAir will restart its service between the two capitals, and the two companies will together offer five round-trip flights between Moscow and Cairo a week.

But Russian officials cautioned that the restoration of flights between Moscow and Cairo will not help Egypt's troubled tourism sector, centered in resort towns on the Red Sea coast, where Russian tourists once flocked.

"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.

She said most Russians who want to visit the Red Sea areas will continue to book flights through Minsk or Istanbul, as they have since direct flights were suspended.

"Egypt is not yet back as a tourist destination for the Russian market," Tyurina told AFP.

Flights were suspended at the end of 2015 after a bomb downed a flight carrying vacationers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik to St. Petersburg, killing more than 200 Russian tourists.

The attack was claimed by a Sinai Peninsula affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group.

As a result of the bombing and political turmoil in Egypt, the number of foreign tourists collapsed from as many as 14.7 million in 2010 to 5.4 million in 2016, official figures show.

Revenue 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.

But tourism in Egypt made a modest comeback last year, with the number of foreign visitors rising to 8.3 million, government figures show.

Once flights resume between Moscow and Cairo, the two countries will decide on a date to discuss the resumption of flights to Egyptian tourist destinations, the Egyptian ambassador to Russia, Ihab Nasr, has said.

Russian officials continue to express concern about the resumption of direct flights to Egyptian resorts, however.

"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 news agencies.

Eight Russian experts will be sent to Cairo's airport to ensure security measures are being enforced on flights headed to Moscow, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported.

With reporting by AFP and TASS
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