MOSCOW (AP) — Moscow's ban on all flights to Egypt in the wake of a Russian plane crash will last for at least several months, the Kremlin chief of staff said Tuesday, dealing a severe blow to Egypt's struggling tourism industry.
President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said on a visit to Finland that it would be impossible to radically revise Egypt's security system in a short time, according to Russian news reports.
Putin suspended all flights to Egypt on Friday amid security concerns after the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian airliner that killed all 224 people onboard.
Other airliners from Britain and Western Europe are also bringing their nationals home, after several countries and airlines last week suspended new flights to Egypt because of the security concerns.
Suspicions have been focused on the possibility that a bomb caused the crash of the Airbus A321-200 operated by Metrojet. U.S. and British officials have cited intelligence reports indicating that the plane, en route from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, was brought down by a bomb on board.
While Russia and Egypt said the statements were premature pending the official crash probe, Moscow's ban on flights signaled that it was taking the bomb theory seriously.
Ivanov said Egypt needs to revise its security regime not only in Sharm el-Sheikh, but also in airports in Cairo and another Red Sea resort of Hurghada.
Asked how long the Russian flight ban could last, Ivanov said that "I think for several months, as a minimum," according to the state RIA Novosti news agency.
The head of Cairo's international airport, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Genina said officials from Russia, Holland, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are examining the scanning of passengers, cargo and baggage at the airport. Security guards and caterers are also being inspected.
Tourism represents 11 percent of Egypt's economy and almost 20 percent of crucial foreign currency revenues, and it had been making a gradual recovery after years of political upheaval since the 2011 popular uprising that deposed longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt is one of the most popular destinations for Russians, especially in the winter when the sun and clear seas lure them away from gray, frigid weather.
Roughly three million Russian tourists came to Egypt in 2014, nearly a third of all visitors, with most heading to the resorts in the southern Sinai Peninsula or its opposite mainland coast, far off from an insurgency being fought by Islamic militants against the army further north.
Eastern European visitors, also including people from former Soviet satellite states like Ukraine, made up a crucial 45 percent of all tourist arrivals in June, according to Egyptian government statistics.
Brian Rohan in Cairo contributed to this report.