Turkish airlines plane - AP
Turkish Airlines plane Photo by AP
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Turkish charter airlines have suspended flights to and from Israel, Haaretz has learned. From tomorrow, there will be no more charter flights between Ben-Gurion International Airport and Antalya due to economic considerations. The Tel Aviv-Antalya route is used mainly by Israeli vacationers.

Turkish Airlines will continue its schedule of regular flights between Ben-Gurion and Istanbul, a route that primarily serves passengers transiting through Turkey to other destinations.

"We decided to stop all charter flights from Ben-Gurion Airport to Antalya because there's no demand," said Shai Pardo, CEO of KTA International, which represents the major Turkish charter airlines in Israel such as Onur Air and Freebird Airlines. "The last charter flight will take off this Thursday. It's not an anti-Israel decision, there are simply are no takers for the flights."

Pardo said it was not clear when the flights might be restored, but added that he was hopeful that some flights would take place next month, during the peak High Holidays travel season for Israelis, if there was sufficient demand.

The economic costs of the suspension of the flights is estimated to run into millions of shekels.

Just last month, passenger traffic between Israel and Turkey had its biggest-ever year-on-year increase - 60.5 percent more than in August 2010. According to figures issued this week by the Civil Aviation Authority, that number increased from 52,300 to 84,000.

Turkish Airlines reported a 25 percent increase in passenger traffic from Ben-Gurion for the same period, from around 27,100 in August 2010 to 33,800 passengers last month.

The diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Ankara, which has included Turkey's downgrade of relations with Israel and very harsh rhetoric from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has caused a steep dive in air travel between Israel and Turkey.

Last week, there were only two charter flights on the Tel Aviv-Antalya route, instead of four as originally planned, due to cancelations.

The suspension of charter flights will affect not only Israelis who might still be banking on a cheap Turkish package vacation, but also incoming tourism to Israel. Hardest hit will be tourists from the countries of the former Soviet Union, who often combined a day of sightseeing in Israel with their Antalya vacation. While demand in this market has not declined, the lack of charter flights from Turkey to Israel will naturally pose a problem.

While the Turkish national carrier, Turkish Airlines, has not changed its flight schedule on the Istanbul-Tel Aviv route as a result of the crisis in bilateral relations, sources in the aviation industry have said that flight cancelations would be an inevitable result of any significant falloff in passenger numbers.