The first charter flight with tourists from Russia to Spitsbergen is scheduled to take off in April 2024. Moscow or Murmansk are mentioned as departure airports. The flight in both directions should cost less than 100,000 rubles (970 euros). Ildar Neverov, general director of the Arktikugol Trust, asserts this in a press release in Russian media. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs contradicts the announcement. Arktikugol did receive a permit, but only for one flight and only for employees of the company.
Currently, Russians need a Schengen visa to visit Spitsbergen, as today only flights via Norway are offered. But the existing sanctions make it practically impossible for Russian tourists to visit Spitsbergen.
According to Arktikugol-Trust, transport flights are expected to begin before the end of the year, but the company does not plan to offer tourists flight until April. “I would still like to see the first flight with tourists after the end of the polar night in April 2024,” Neverov mentioned. Currently, he said, two flights a month are planned from Moscow or Murmansk, but could be increased if needed.
According to the plan, the charter flight will depart from Moscow or Murmansk twice a month. The cost of such a flight will be relatively cheap. “So far, a direct round-trip flight with an aircraft size of 130 seats cost less than 100,000 rubles (979 euros) per person, and this is very cheap. The flight via Norway is much more expensive, 130,000 rubles (1,260 euros) and more. Besides, it requires three transfers. Via Norway you need a Norwegian visa, in the case of a charter it is not necessary and the flight takes only four hours,” Neverov explained.
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs disagrees
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has considered the Arktikugol Trust’s request for exemption from sanctions and approved an exemption from the flight ban. In the process, only one flight was approved and only employees of the company may be on the passenger list; tourists would not be allowed on board. This is to allow Arktikugol to exchange operating personnel from Barentsburg, some of whom had been in the settlement continuously for almost two years.
According to the Norwegian authorities, if Arktikugol wishes to continue operating charter flights, it must submit an individual permit in each case. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs further states that it sees no reason to authorize the carriage of tourists on these charter flights.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
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