El Al Adding Flights to London as Open Skies Takes Hold

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El Al Israel Airlines said on Sunday it planned to nearly double the number of flights to London starting April 1 as Israel’s Open Skies aviation agreement with the European Union creates new competition and increases tourism.

Israel’s flag carrier said it would operate five flights most days between Tel Aviv and London, or a total of 27 a week, starting April 1. It has been flying 15 flights a week on the route.

“Demand is growing for El Al flights on the London route, which is enabling us unprecedented weekly flights in the Israel-Britain aviation market,” said Micha Owsinski, the carrier’s manager for timetable planning, adding that the English capital’s role as a tourism and business center makes it a year-round destination.

El Al will be offering the same number − 11 − of weekly flights to Heathrow, London’s main airport, but will increase the number to Luton, a secondary airport, to 12 from four. More flights will be scheduled during the peak travel months of July and August, the airline said.

El Al’s other airlines are stepping up flights and cutting airfares as Open Skies goes into effect, enabling more carriers to fly more routes to more cities. In November El Al unveiled its new low-cost carrier called UP, while Israir said last week it was cutting fares to Rome and Berlin between now and the end of February.

EasyJet, the low-cost British carrier, has been expanding service to Israel, with plans for a route between Ben-Gurion International Airport and Berlin starting in February, and to Milan in March.

However, an application to fly between Tel Aviv and Paris was rejected by French aviation authorities last week. French regulators attributed the decision to a lack of space at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport, although EL Al was cleared for a fourth weekly flight. The turndown was the first-ever by regulators seeking to operate a low-cost route between Israel and Europe. Aviation industry sources speculated that French officials were seeking to protect the market shares of Air France and other French carriers.

In related news, the workers committee at El Al said on Sunday that any potential investors in the airline must consult with union officials before they move ahead with their plans.

“All potential buyers should learn from the not-too-distant past that the only way is to open channels of communication with the workers that will enable them to advance any plans to buy the airline,” the committee said.

Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media mogul behind the hit children’s television series Power Rangers, is reportedly considering buying control of El Al.

Last year, the private equity fund FIMI had offered to buy a controlling stake of the carrier, but only on condition that management negotiated a collective labor agreement that would cut costs to make it competitive in the new era of Open Skies. The talks failed and FIMI withdrew its offer.

“Employees are not furniture, planes or equipment that can be moved from one to another,” the workers committee warned.

An El Al plane on the runway at Ben Gurion Airport.Credit: Moti Milrod

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