Egypt, Russia resume flights halted after 2015 attack

CAIRO — Egypt and Russia resumed direct flights on Thursday, more than two-and-a-half years after they were suspended in the wake of a bombing that brought down a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula.

EgyptAir said in a statement its Moscow-bound flight took off from Cairo on Thursday and that it will operate three such flights a week. Earlier, an Aeroflot flight from Moscow carrying 124 passengers arrived in Cairo.

The move comes after prolonged negotiations, multiple Egyptian airport inspections and inking of security agreements to bring Russian tourists back to Egypt to revive the country's reeling industry.

Moscow suspended flights after the 2015 attack, which killed all 224 people on board and was claimed by the extremist Islamic State group. Russian officials said then that a homemade explosive device was detonated on board the plane, which had taken off from the main Sinai resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The decision dealt Egypt's tourism industry a severe blow since the country relied heavily on the influx of Russian tourists. Egypt's tourism industry had already been weakened by years of unrest followed the 2011 uprising.

"Even though air service between Russia and Egypt has been interrupted for such a long time, the load factor on upcoming flights is more than 85 percent," Aeroflot said in a statement, adding that both airlines would offer daily flights from June 12 to July 2 to cope with heavy demand.

Egypt has sought to improve airport security since the 2015 attack, spending millions of dollars and bringing in foreign experts for inspections.

In December 2017, Egyptian and Russian officials signed a protocol on security cooperation paving the way for the flights resumption. Since the attack, Egypt said it has installed modern baggage-scanning equipment, surveillance cameras and finger-print security gates.

Direct flights between Russia and Egypt's popular Red Sea resorts have yet to resume. Britain, another major source of visitors to Egypt, suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh after the attack.

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