A flight carrying tourists from Russia to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts arrived on Monday, ending a six-year flight ban imposed after the 2015 bombing of a Russian passenger jet that killed everyone on board.
Egyptair flight MS724 was welcomed with a traditional water salute at Hurghada International Airport to celebrate the return of one of the most important demographics for the Red Sea tourism industry.
The 300 passengers were greeted with gifts, balloons and flowers as they disembarked.
The airline said it would operate seven flights a week from Moscow to Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt's other large Red Sea resort city, now that Russia had approved revamped flight security measures.
Russian officials said eight airlines in the country would operate flights to the two resorts from 43 cities. But St Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, was not included.
The first Russian-operated flight was scheduled to land in Hurghada on Monday afternoon, followed by another to Sharm El Sheikh a couple of hours later.
Both flights are being operated by Rossiya, a subsidiary of Russia's flagship airline Aeroflot.
Russia banned flights to Egypt after an aircraft bound for St Petersburg crashed in the Northern Sinai region soon after taking off from Sharm El Sheikh on October 31, 2015. All 224 people aboard were killed.
The Egyptian branch of ISIS claimed the crash was caused by a bomb smuggled aboard the aircraft.
While flights from Moscow to Cairo resumed in 2018 after the Egyptian government bolstered its security measures at the city’s airport, Russia delayed its decision to resume flights to the Red Sea coast.
The return of Russian tourists to the area is expected to boost Egypt’s tourism industry, which has been hit hard by the political instability that followed the 2011 Arab uprisings, the flight ban and the pandemic.
Russians accounted for the largest group of visitors to Egypt’s tourist destinations before the 2015 terrorist attack.
Egypt has spent millions on its security measures in both Red Sea cities, in the hope that Russian tourists would return.
Egypt’s Covid-19 health regulations, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, are markedly more lax in the Red Sea region than in the rest of the country. But all foreign visitors have to show a negative PCR test result.
A Health Ministry campaign focused on vaccinating tourism-sector workers has kept infection rates low in the Red Sea region, compared with the rest of the country, where vaccinations are increasing at a slower rate.
The UK, another major source of visitors to the Red Sea resorts, also imposed a flight ban after the 2015 crash. That measure was lifted in October 2019.