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For the first time, the British airline bmi plans to suspend two of its weekend flights to Israel. Starting in November, and until March 2010, the company will reduce the number of weekly flights on the Ben-Gurion-London route to 12, and continue to operate just one daily flight instead of two on Fridays and Saturdays.

The reasons for the move are stiff competition and a drop-off in demand expected over the winter season. Bmi is the first European airline to cut back on the number of flights to Israel this coming winter because of lack of profitability.

The planned cutback in the number of flights this November coincides with the launch of flights to be operated by EasyJet between London and Israel. The company also intends to operate a line between Switzerland and Israel, following the signing of a new aviation agreement between the two countries. The low-cost airline will begin operating six flights between London and Ben- Gurion Airport, but in addition to bmi, it will be competing against El Al and British Airways.

El Al has recently added another flight from London's Luton airport to Ben-Gurion, filling the void left by Thompson Fly of the TUI Group when it suspended its flights out of Luton. EasyJet plans to operate its flights out of Ben-Gurion's terminal 1, using Airbus A-320 craft.

Bmi began flying to Israel in March 2008 with one daily flight, seven flights per week, using relatively small Airbus A-319 planes. Starting in May this year the company doubled the number of flights it operated to two flights per day, and even replaced the planes operating on the route with larger Airbus A-330s.

The move has intensified competition on the London-Israel route to the advantage of customers, lowering fares substantially, even during this year's peak summer season.

"As a responsible company that prepares itself for periods of lower demand in the global airline market, bmi has decided to accommodate its capacity supply on the route to expected demand between November 2009 and March 2010," says bmi's chief executive in Israel Sebastian Weinstein. Nevertheless, he says, the company feels it is important to continue to offer daily flights.