CAIRO — Egypt will soon announce a tender for a new security system for Cairo Airport employees involving retinal scans, in an attempt to meet Russian conditions to resume flights to Egypt, Egyptian Aviation officials said on Sunday.
They said Egypt has already met most of Russia’s security recommendations for the airport, where some 20,000 people work.
A visit last week by Russia’s Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov raised hopes that Moscow would soon resume flights to Egypt, which were suspended last year when a Russian airliner taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.
Russian and Western intelligence agencies said the crash was likely caused by a bomb placed on board, and a Sinai-based affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Moscow’s decision, along with the U.K.’s suspension of its flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, dealt a severe blow to Egypt’s vital tourism sector and its already ailing economy.
Upgrading security at its airports has cost the government in Egypt millions of dollars and given rise to long and often raucous lines at security checks. But the government is pressing ahead with the security reforms in the hope of luring tourists back.
Since the crash of the Russian passenger airliner in October 2015, Egypt’s aviation industry was further shaken by the crash into the Mediterranean of an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo in May after a fire was reported on board, killing all 66 people on board. In March, a domestic EgyptAir flight was diverted to Cyprus by a hijacker using a fake explosives belt.
The new security measures at Egypt’s airports now include sealing off luggage after it is cleared by X-ray checks, a process that also applies to on-flight food and beverages. Passengers must also remove their shoes and belts for scanning at the final security check before boarding. Kiosk-shaped machines designed to detect traces of explosives have been installed at arrival halls but are not yet being used.
The recent security measures have caused their share of friction.
Last week, a tussle broke out at the airport between customs inspectors and policemen. The policemen insisted that the inspectors be searched before entering the facility. The inspectors refused, arguing that the law does not authorize such searches.
The disagreement led to scenes of shoving and shouting that were noticed by passengers. The Cabinet member in charge of customs, Finance Minister Amr el-Garhy, visited the airport on Thursday in a bid to resolve the crisis, making a point of submitting to a police search himself.
Reluctantly, the inspectors eventually agreed to submit to searches but their continuing insistence to search policemen leaving the airport, as permitted by law, is fueling tension, said the officials.
“We agreed to ignore the law for the sake of Egypt and the return of tourists,” said a senior inspector, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “But we need to see everyone who comes to the airport searched too, not just us.”