Egypt commemorated the Russian plane crash, which happened one year ago on Sunday in a ceremony organised by Sharm El-Sheikh governorate at Salam square. The ceremony was attended by Minister of Civil Aviation Sherif Fathy and the Russian ambassador to Egypt.
The Russian ambassador said that Russia felt Egyptians’ compassion with the Russian victims from the very first moments of the crash. He also said he hopes that direct flights will be resumed soon.
Although the crash did not have a significantly negative impact on Egyptian-Russian relations, direct flights from Russia to Egypt were suspended in the wake of the incident, and despite many speculations and statements that the flights may resume soon, no fixed date has been set. The latest statements from Russia said that the direct flights may return by the end of 2016 or at the beginning of 2017.
Aftermath of the crash and unfulfilled promises to resume direct flights
On 31 October 2015, Egyptian Air Traffic Control announced that it lost contact with the Russian plane that took off from Sharm El-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg.
Twenty-three minutes after it took off, the plane crashed in Sinai Peninsula, with officials saying that all 224 passengers and crew members on board were killed.
Following the crash, the Kremlin issued a statement in which Russian president Vladimir Putin declared 1 November a day of mourning.
An investigative commission from Egypt began looking into the plane crash. The Russian transportation minister announced that Russia would cooperate alongside Egypt in the investigations; several countries offered assistance as well.
It was revealed that the pilot had not called for assistance from Air Traffic Control and the possibility of engine failure was dismissed.
Following speculations that the crash was a result of a terrorist act, the Russian minister said the cause of this catastrophe could only be discussed after an international investigation has been conducted.
The Russian emergencies ministry then announced that a working group had set a plan for operations at the site of the tragedy. Egypt’s Tourism Ministry announced its readiness to assist in expatriating the victims to Russia.
A representative of the Russian Federal Centre for Forensic Medicine said that the examination of the remains will be carried out in Russia and Egypt will only be responsible for collecting them.
The Russian minister of transportation announced that Russia and Egypt had reached a mutual understanding on conducting an investigation into the crash incident.
A day after the crash, the Red Sea governor told Russian news agency Sputnik that the incident would not affect the tourism sector; however, tourism to Egypt had already been suffering since the 25 January Revolution in 2011 and further deteriorated following the crash.
Two days following the crash, the Kremlin spokesperson said that it was too early to identify the cause of crash, but the possibility of a terrorist act cannot be ruled out.
American global intelligence company Stratfor suggested on 2 November 2015 that an explosion from inside the plane might have caused the crash. It was the first to announce a reason behind the crash.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ruled out the possibility that the Islamic State may have taken down the plane, despite the fact that they claimed responsibility for the crash. The president dismissed this as propaganda aiming to damage the stability and security of Egypt.
The United Kingdom (UK), which participated in the investigations, suspended direct flights to and from Sharm El-Sheikh, a decision which Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry described as “premature”. Several other international airlines suspended their flights, particularly those with routes over the Sinai peninsula.
Egypt had started to tighten its security measures at airports, and informed Russia of this; however, on 6 November 2015, Putin agreed to suspend all flights to Egypt starting 14 November 2015.
On 11 November 2015, Al-Sisi, as quoted by Al-Ahram, said that Egypt will not rush the investigations into the crash and will hide nothing. One year later, Egypt has still not officially released a statement clarifying the reasons behind the crash.
On 17 November 2015, the head of Russia’s security service confirmed that the plane was taken down by an explosive device. Putin vowed to punish those who caused the crash. Egypt has still not confirmed or denied this claim.
In January, talks regarding the resumption of direct flights began when Russia sent Egypt guidelines for aviation safety, and a Russian parliament member told reporters in Cairo that flights may soon be resumed.
Egypt announced several times that it has implemented all the required security measures demanded by Russia. In spite of this, in March, an EgyptAir plane en route from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and the pilot was forced to fly to Cyprus instead. The hijacker was not a terrorist, and was not carrying any explosives, but rather was motivated by personal reasons; however, this incident caused demands for security measures to be further enhanced.
Sputnik said on Thursday that a preliminary report on the plane crash will be issued within 60 days, amid promises from the Russian side that the flights will soon be resumed.
Egyptian-Russian ties have been fostered over the past few years following the signing of military and commercial agreements. Also, joint military drills between Russia and Egypt were held in Egypt earlier this month.