EgyptAir cancels flights to Russia in retaliation for ban

Published November 15th, 2015 - 01:00 GMT

Since Russia has not set a time frame to resume EgyptAir flights to Moscow, Egypt has decided to suspend flights "until further notice," Egypt's aviation minister said on Saturday.

Minister Hossam Kamal's announcement comes after Russia decided on Friday to hault EgyptAir flights to Moscow, barring the national carrier from flying into the country. Moscow-based Interfax news agency cited security concerns.

Meanwhile, a Russian aviation committee which includes three aviation experts, inspected security procedures in Cairo's international airport on Saturday, security sources told Aswat Masriya.

The suspension of EgyptAir flights to Moscow came on the heels of an earlier decision by the Kremlin to suspend all inbound flights to Egypt in the aftermath of the downing of a Russian charter flight on Oct. 31 in Sinai, killing all 224 on board and threatenting to deal a further blow to the tourism sector still reeling from years of political turmoil.  

In a meeting with representatives from the interior and foreign ministries and RT, a Russian state television network, Kamal said "we understand" the Russian side's position and the "exceptional, precautionary measures" it is taking given what the "world is going through" and the "escalation of terrorist threats."  

He added that Egypt has provided assistance to the Russian side and all airlines that have requested special security procedures on their flights and called on the Russian representatives to provide Egypt with the reasons behind the flight the suspension and the length of the suspension.

The Russian representatives said the Russian side is studying the situation and will formally respond to Egypt as soon as possible.        

Prior to Kamal's statements, Russian Ambassador to Cairo Sergey Kirpichenko told Aswat Masriya these are "temporary security measures," adding that he hopes for the "crisis" to end "as soon as possible" and to determine the cause of the crash. 

EgyptAir runs three flights to Moscow per week on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Egypt’s Aviation Ministry received an official confirmation of the flight ban and said on Friday that it was holding high-level talks to understand the reasons behind the decision and the status of future flights in light of what Russian news agencies have reported. 

Kirpichenko said he is in contact with Egyptian officials to discuss the work of the Egypt-led international committee that is investigating the crash. 

While initially this committee did not include American representatives, Egypt announced on Nov. 11 that there will be American involvement because the Russian-operated plane's engine was manufactured by American company Pratt & Whitney. 

Egypt's foreign minister said Egypt "accepted the application" of American investigators "associated with manufacturers" of the engine of the Airbus A321 plane that crashed in the Sinai desert on Oct. 31, to become part of the investigation team, the CNN reported on Tuesday.

On Thursday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FBI, which says it had offered "forensic assistance to Egypt and Russia, denied in a statement to Reuters that they have been invited to join the Egyptian-led investigation into the crash. 

The Egypt-led investigation team is made up of 58 people, including 29 from Egypt, seven from Russia, six from France where the plane was designed, three from Ireland where it was registered and two from Germany where it was manufactured.

Additionally, 10 consultants from Airbus and a representative from the European Aviation Safety Agency are on the committee. 

The fatal Russian plane, which officials have said had exploded in midair, had disappeared from the radar 23 minutes after the jet took off from Egypt's popular tourist hub Sharm el-Sheikh. It's debris spread across at least 13 square kilometers in the Sinai desert, leaving all on board dead. 

Although the investigation is still underway theories on the downing of the plane abound. The U.S. and the UK have officially entertained the possibility that the Russian flight was brought down by a bomb planted on board, sending ripples across the world and raising questions on Egyptian airport security.

Egyptian officials have said that flight suspensions were "premature" since the investigation into the cause of the crash are still underway and that “all possibilities are on the table”.

They have urged local and international media not to jump to conclusions until the international committee tasked with investigating the incident announces the results, just as the local media cried foul, claiming that Egypt is facing a massive Western conspiracy to scare off tourists and bring the economy to its knees.

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