On 9 August, Monday morning, the Egypt Air flight MS724 departed Moscow with 300 tourists. The Airbus A300-330 landed in Hurghada, a popular Red Sea destination. 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 arrival in Egypt on Monday.
The Russian government had banned its airlines from flying to Egypt because of concern over the downing of a passenger plane on Oct 31 2015 that killed 224 Russians. The only airline flying that route had been Egypt Air. “But until Egypt and its airlines can guarantee safety, Russia won’t allow the route”, the Kremlin had said.
The ban came into effect in October 2015, following the crash of an aircraft from now-defunct Russian carrier Metrojet. One of the airline’s Airbus A321s was operating Flight 9268 when it was destroyed by a bomb shortly after take-off from Sharm El Sheikh International Airport heading for Saint Petersburg. The Sinai branch of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the terrorist act that claimed the life of 217 passengers and seven crew members. It was the deadliest air disaster both in Russian aviation and in the airspace of Egypt.
To resume flights from Russia to Egypt, the decision was made following an April 23rd phone call between Russian President, Vladimir Putin and the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. “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.
A statement issued by the Egyptian President’s office confirmed that El-Sissi warmly welcomed the decision and that flights would resume as soon as some minor technical issues were ironed out Rossiya’s Egypt services are operated in collaboration with Biblio-Globus, Russia’s largest charter tour operator. Flights will depart five times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
They will be operated by the airline’s Boeing 747-400s, seating 522 passengers – 12 in business and 512 in economy. Rossiya, as one of the few airlines in the world, still regularly operates its jumbo quadjets. It has a fleet of nine, two of which are currently parked, with an average age of 21.5 years.
The Russians can travel to the Red Sea resorts once more, they will find it is much easier to obtain a visa for Egypt than it was in 2015 as an electronic tourist visa for Egypt has since been implemented. The e-Visa for Egypt was introduced in December 2017 and is available through a simple online application that only takes a few minutes to complete with basic personal, passport, and travel details.
According to the BBC, Russians make up close to one in three of all foreign tourists in Egypt and, in 2014 alone, three million Russian nationals stayed at Egyptian resorts. 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.
By Agnes Chioneso Msongelwa