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First international flight hits Chechen skies

Russia's southern republic of Chechnya has seen its first international flight in fifteen years take off from the capital Grozny. The plane bound for Medina, Saudi Arabia, was carrying two hundred pilgrims.

Hours before the flight, the airport was packed with passengers, leadership and clergy of the republic. Many pilgrims said that they were happy to depart for Saudi Arabia from their native city. In the past, in order to get to Muslim holy places, they had to fly from other regions of Russia.

“I left home an hour ago and now I have to go through customs, and in the morning I will be in Saudi Arabia,” one of the pilgrims said.

Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, who was also present at the event, asked the pilgrims to pray for Chechnya in the Holy Land. Kadyrov told the journalists that he was happy with the new status of the airport.

“I am standing here and cannot find words to express my joy,” he said. “I am very happy that, at long last, the people of our republic have an opportunity to fly from home in any direction, and especially happy that the first international flight will take pilgrims to the Holy Land.”

The Chechen president said that the airport has all the facilities needed for border and customs control, and also has an advanced security system.

International flights were suspended in the republic for 15 long years. The republic’s authorities had repeatedly asked their federal counterparts to give the airport international status. Only after the counterterrorist operation regime had been lifted in the republic in April was the idea given a green light.

The list of countries where planes from the airport will fly is not yet fully known, but is likely to include Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The Chechen leadership hopes that the international air connection will bring more foreign investments into the republic.