MOSCOW — Russia plans to resume direct flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resort towns more than six years after the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, the Kremlin said Friday.
President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi during a Friday phone call discussed the resumption of traffic to the towns of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.
“In view of the joint work to ensure high standards of aviation security in Egyptian airports that has been completed, a principal agreement was reached to restore full-format air links between Russia and Egypt,” a readout of the call said.
Egypt’s office of the presidency also issued a statement saying that El-Sissi welcomed the decision. Neither specified when the first flights would take place, but Russian media reports said they could resume as early as mid-May after officials iron out technical details.
The government’s anti-coronavirus task force said it will announce when flights will resume, and other specifics such as the number of flights, in the second half of May.
Russian air carriers said they are ready to move quickly to organize charter flights to the Egyptian resorts and and tour operators said they expect a strong demand.
Moscow suspended all flights to Egypt after a bomb by the local Islamic State affiliate brought down a Russian airliner over Sinai in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board. In 2017, it started flying to Cairo again, but direct trips to the two Red Sea resort towns have remained halted.
The attack was a serious blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which was also affected by the unrest following its 2011 popular uprising. Egyptian authorities have since spent millions of dollars to upgrade security at its airports, hoping to get Moscow to change its mind.
Earlier this month, Russia suspended most of its flights to Turkey until June 1 citing a rise in infections there, a move that dealt a heavy blow to the Turkish tourist industry and scuttled vacation plans for more than 500,000 Russians. Many of them could now look at Egyptian resorts as an alternative.
The resumption would be key for Egypt’s tourism sector, which has been dealt another blow by the coronavirus pandemic over the past year. It’s kept looser restrictions in the Red Sea resort towns to try to attract foreign visitors.
In the wake of the IS bombing, Britain, another major source of visitors to Egypt, suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort in Sinai from which the doomed Russian airliner took off. They lifted restrictions in October 2019.