After a 17-year hiatus, the Russian airline Aeroflot landed in Seychelles on Friday carrying 387 passengers and a consignment of COVID-19 vaccines, Sputnik V.

The Boeing 777 landed at the Pointe Larue international airport a little past 9.30 am. The outbound flight is expected to leave at 11.05 pm the same day.

Onboard the flight was the first consignment of 1,000 doses of the Russian-made COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V. More doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in the country later.

Aeroflot has long historical links with Seychelles and an Air Service Agreement between Victoria and Moscow was signed in November 1980.

Aeroflot started operating flights between Moscow and Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, in 1993 with stops in Dubai. In October 2003, the airline stopped flights altogether and closed their office in Victoria, the capital, in December that year.

The Seychelles national carrier, Air Seychelles, launched flights to Russia in 2008 however this route did not remain open for long. Transaero – another Russian airline – replaced Aeroflot as the official carrier between the two countries in 2010, operating seasonal charters to the islands.

The chief marketing officer of Aeroflot, Anton Myagkov, said “we are very proud to be the very first European airline to come back to Seychelles in 2021 with a regular service between Moscow and Mahe,” in a ceremony after the landing,

He said that with the opening of the new route, Aeroflot is now offering more opportunities to all travellers bringing them closer to normal life and new experience and joy.

“In 2020 we saw a lot of demand for some paradise island experience with unique and beautiful beaches. Because of Russia’s location, our travellers want to go to a unique tropical country during winter, autumn and spring. That is the reason we are here,” said Myagkov.

The airline will be operating the 8 hour and 20 minutes flight twice-weekly to Seychelles – on Sundays and Fridays – as of April 11.

“We are getting a lot of booking and this is the reason why we opened a second frequency. We expect that in a couple of weeks we will be opening a third frequency,” he added.

The tourism minister, Sylvestre Radegonde, outlined that “the resumption of direct flights from Russia to Seychelles augurs well for us all, not only for the influx of visitor arrivals but also for relations between Seychelles and the Russian Federation.”

Seychelles and Russia will be celebrating 45 years of bilateral relations this year.

Radegonde explained that in 2003 when Aeroflot pulled out of Seychelles, the island nation was receiving around 3,000 visitors per year from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In 2019, a little more than 13,000 visitors from Russia and the CIS visited Seychelles, corresponding to a slight decrease over previous years.

“With the introduction of twice-weekly flights by Aeroflot, I am hopeful that we can not only reclaim, but increase, our share of the Russian and the CIS market. It is within our ability to do so. We can do it if we all work together as a team – government and the private sector together,” said Radegonde.

He added that “the Russian market has always been a profitable one for Seychelles, featuring in the top seven destinations every year. It is a high-yield market, with an average stay of nine to 13 nights.”

On the fact that Aeroflot is not making a stopover in Dubai like before, the transport minister, Anthony Derjacques, said that “they have calculated that Seychelles is a safe destination and furthermore, there are public health guidelines that they have to follow and one is the PCR test 72 hours prior to landing in Seychelles.”