Kazakhstan suspends tourist flights to Egypt after Russian plane crash

ASTANA/ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan has suspended tourist flights to Egypt due to safety concerns after a Russian passenger plane crashed there, killing all 224 people onboard, Kazakh tourist companies and an airline said on Friday (Nov 13).

Tez Tour Kazakhstan, one of Kazakhstan's leading tourist companies, said in a statement to its clients that tourist flights to Egypt had been stopped on Nov 12 by an order from the Central Asian nation's Civil Aviation Committee.

Kazakh airline Scat, the only Kazakh carrier offering charter flights to Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, said the next flight on Nov 17 would be made only to evacuate the travellers whom it brought there on Nov 7.

"We have received a request from our tourist firms to stop flights there because of a decline in demand for this route," Scat spokesman Viktoria Ulyanova told Reuters by telephone. "We also received a recommendation from the Civil Aviation Committee to suspend flights," she said.

Tez Tour sent its clients a copy of the telegram it had received from the aviation authority, which said it had conducted a safety assessment, finding "a high level of threat to aviation security for Kazakhstan's airlines flying to Egypt".

"One of the main possible versions of the (Russian plane's) crash was a terrorist act," it said.

The committee said it "strongly recommends" that Kazakh air companies should not make flights to Egypt before the first results of the probe into the Russian air disaster have been published.

The Russian plane carrying tourists, which belonged to air company Kogalymavia, had been heading from Sharm el-Sheikh to the Russian city of St Petersburg when it crashed on Oct 31, killing all 224 people on board.

A number of countries have suspended flights to Egypt citing safety concerns after the crash.

Egypt was a favourite holiday destination for many Kazakhstanis, as it was for Russians.

Kazakhstan's tourist industry, hit hard by the sharp devaluation of the national tenge currency in the past year, is now certain to suffer new losses, said Ms Rashida Shaikenova, director of the Kazakhstan Tourist Association. "Many tourists have already sold back their holiday vouchers for Egypt," she told Reuters.

"We've already seen a 60 per cent to 70 per cent drop in demand for tourist trips abroad... The latest plane crash can make things even worse."