Egyptian-Russian negotiations on flight resumption remain ‘unresolved’: Russian deputy transport minister

Ahram Online , Wednesday 24 May 2017

Sharm El-Sheikh Airport
File Photo: Tourists seen leaving Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport following aftermath of Russian airliner crash in October 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

Russia’s Deputy Transportation Minister Valery Okulov said on Wednesday that negotiations between Moscow and Cairo on the resumption of Russian flights to Egypt remain “unresolved.”

In statements reported by Sputnik News Agency, Okulov said he cannot take it upon himself to predict when flights would resume.

“Different information is being reported in the media about a change in the Egyptian position. We, however, have not changed our stance since February,” Okulov told reporters on Wednesday. 

The Egyptian civil aviation ministry declined to comment to Ahram Online about the Russian statement, saying it would respond in an official statement if needed.

Russia, which was the top source of tourists visiting Egypt, suspended flights to the country pending the implementation of tighter security measures at all Egyptian airports following the 2015 crash of a Russian passenger jet after takeoff from Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh, which killed all 224 people on board, most of them holidaymakers.

In February, Russia signed off on new security measures adopted by Egypt as a condition for the resumption of Russian flights.

An agreement between Egypt and Russia prepared by the Russian transportation ministry to resume flights was set to be signed by Egypt’s civil aviation minister Sherif Fathy during a visit to Moscow, the date of which has not been announced, raising speculation about a possible rift between the two countries.

The agreement states that flights would resume upon the condition that a Russian company chosen by Russia’s aviation watchdog Rosaviatsia would be responsible for monitoring security, according to TASS.

The company would have the right to inspect aircraft, passengers, cargo, baggage, mail and flight catering on planes heading to Russia.

A source at the Egyptian civil aviation ministry told Sputnik earlier this month that Egyptian authorities consider the presence of Russian security in the country's airports to be a violation of Egyptian sovereignty and therefore not acceptable.

Egypt has been implementing tighter security measures at its airports since the 2015 crash, and Russian experts have carried out a series of inspections at Egyptian airports throughout the past year.

A number of European countries that suspended flights to Sharm El-Sheikh following the 2015 crash have recently reinstated direct flights to the South Sinai tourist hotspot.

The UK, however, another main source of tourists for Egypt, still maintains a ban on flights to the Egyptian resort city.

Egyptian tourism, a pillar of the country's economy and a key source of hard currency, has taken a blow since the crash. Sharm El-Sheikh's economy is believed to have suffered the most.

Egypt's revenues from tourism dropped to $3.4 billion in 2016, a 44.3 percent decline from the previous year, the Central Bank of Egypt said in January. The figure is a far cry from the $11 billion in revenues generated by the sector in 2010, when 14.7 million tourists visited the country.

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