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Moscow bans Egyptian national carrier from flying to Russia – Egypt says plane’s final seconds to be analyzed abroad

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MOSCOW, Nov 13, (Agencies): Russia’s state aviation agency on Friday banned Egypt’s national carrier from flying to Russia, a move that follows the suspension of all Russian flights to Egypt after a deadly crash. Rosaviatsiya on Friday formally notified Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, where Egypt Air flights arrive, that the ban is effective starting Saturday, said the airport spokesman Alexander Vlasov. The aviation agency didn’t give any immediate reason for the ban on flights.

The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt after the Oct 31 crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt that killed all 224 people on board. Moscow said the ban was necessary because of concerns about security at Egypt’s airports.

US and British officials have cited intelligence reports indicating that the plane was brought down by a bomb on board shortly after it took off from Egypt’s Sharm al-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. But Russia and Egypt said the statements were premature as the official crash probe has not concluded. The flight ban, however, suggests that Russia takes the prospect exceptionally seriously.

On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said the flight ban will last for at least several months, a severe blow to Egypt’s struggling tourism industries that depend on Russian tourists for a large share of their revenue. On Friday, Russia’s national flag carrier, Aeroflot, said it will not fly to Egypt until March 27, 2016.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s civil aviation minister says the final seven seconds of the cockpit voice recording from the Russian plane that crashed on Oct 31 in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will be sent to a country that has the capabilities to analyze it.

Hossam Kamal tells state-run newspaper Al-Ahram in an interview published Friday that a copy of the recording needs to be analyzed with technology “unavailable in most countries.” The investigation team has said the recordings include a last-second noise. Kamal says the original tape will not be transported out of Egypt, which is leading the investigation alongside representatives from Russia, France, Germany, and Ireland. He didn’t identify the country. All 224 people on the plane, most of them Russian tourists, were killed. The Russian plane crash in Egypt has forced Sharm el-Sheikh hotels to send dozens of staff on “unpaid leave” as tourist numbers dwindle, with tens of thousands of jobs at risk within months. The October 31 crash over the Sinai Peninsula that killed all 224 people on board prompted Russia and Britain to repatriate their nationals holidaying in the Red Sea resort.

Tourist arrivals declined further as Russia halted normal flights to Egypt, and Britain restricted travel to Sharm el- Sheikh on mounting suspicions that the plane was downed by a bomb on board. The Egyptian affiliate of the jihadist Islamic State group claimed it brought down the Saint Petersburg-bound flight, minutes after taking off from Sharm el- Sheikh. Two weeks after the crash, the travel restrictions have hit hard, with resort operators in Sharm el-Sheikh cutting staff to reduce costs. “I have been told not to come from tomorrow,” said Ahmed, an employee of a luxury hotel, who gave only his first name. “I’ll be called if the situation improves. Nothing is clear.” Ahmed, who is originally from Upper Egypt, said five other employees of his hotel were also told to go on unpaid leave.

At least four luxury hotels confirmed to AFP they have asked several employees to take leave. Tourism employs one in nine workers in Egypt, and in Sharm el-Sheikh nearly 80,000 depend on it for their livelihood. “The way the situation is, about 40,000 people risk losing their jobs within months,” Givara El-Gafy, head of the South Sinai chamber of tourism, told AFP. After years of instability since the 2011 ouster of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak, and a rising tide of militant attacks that kept visitors away, tourism in Egypt had shown signs of a pick up ahead of Christmas and New Year.

Resort owners were even considering hiring new staff, but not anymore. “We stopped hiring new staff … and those who want to go can go,” said Anwar Hawary, a manager at a five-star hotel. For a hotel to break even, at least 30 percent of its rooms have to be occupied, experts say. Failing that, many hotels, especially new ones, will have to shut. In a holiday spot like Sharm el-Sheikh, many foreigners are also employed in resorts and companies catering to tourists. “Two days back I lost my job,” said Oxana, a Russian who worked for an Egyptian perfume company based in Sharm.

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