Turkish Airlines flew more passengers to and from Israel than any other foreign airline in 2014, according to a report by the Israel Airports Authority. It is the second year in a row it has proved most popular.
The major presence of Turkish Airlines in Israel comes despite fraught relations between Turkey and Israel in recent years. The Turkish carrier flew 690,000 passengers in or out of Ben-Gurion International Airport last year, a 19% increase over 2013, when 582,800 passengers flew Turkish to or from the Tel Aviv-area airport. The 2013 figure represented about a 60% increase over 2012.
Israel’s national flag carrier, El Al, remains the largest carrier overall, with about 4.6 million passengers departing or arriving on the airline last year. El Al saw an 8.6% growth in passenger volume in 2014, compared to 2013. Arkia Israel Airlines was the third largest carrier last year, with 510,000 passengers, but the airline experienced only a 0.7% growth in traffic compared to 2013.
The third largest Israeli carrier was Israir, at 260,000, constituting a 4.4% increase over 2013. Israir ranked only 13th overall, however, when foreign carriers were added to the rankings.
Among foreign airlines, German carrier Lufthansa was right behind Turkish, with 385,000 passengers in 2014, 4.8% more than in 2013. Next came the discount British airline easyJet, with 380,000 – a whopping 87.5% increase compared to 2013.
A total of 14.2 million passengers passed through Ben-Gurion Airport last year, a 6% increase over the year before and an all-time traffic record.
When ranked by country of origin or destination of arriving and departing passengers, the United States claimed top spot with about 1.5 million passengers, followed by Turkey and Germany.
When measured by specific airports, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport was in No. 1 position in terms of the number of passengers flying to or from Ben-Gurion, although at 800,000 it represented a 4% decline from 2013. In second place was New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport with 680,000 passengers, nearly unchanged from 2013. Third spot went to Istanbul Atatürk Airport with 620,000 passengers, a 9.8% increase over 2013. Many of the passengers traveling to Istanbul from Israel use the airport to connect to onward destinations.
The prominent showing of Turkish Airlines in 2014 came despite years of strained relations between Turkey and Israel, which have periodically put a major dent in the number of Israelis who have chosen to vacation in Turkey.
The low point in relations between Israel and a generally hostile Turkish government came in May 2010, when a Turkish flotilla of ships – including the Mavi Marmara – set sail for Gaza, with the declared intent of breaking the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In a confrontation between the Israeli navy and activists onboard the ship, nine passengers were killed. A 10th passenger died last year.