Israeli Airlines Flew More Passengers During War

They benefited as foreign carriers suspended flights but will still suffer losses.

Sivan Frej

The air-travel chaos that the Gaza conflict caused in July boosted business for Israel’s three airlines, according to figures the Israel Airports Authority released on Tuesday.

While foreign carriers reported double-digit drops in the number of passengers they flew during the month compared with July 2013, El Al Airlines flew 3.6% more, or 492,300. Arkia saw the number of passenger it carried grow about 8% to 90,200 and Israir enjoyed a 9% rise to 39,200.

The increase came as many foreign airlines, following advisories by U.S. and European aviation authorities, suspended flights to and from Ben-Gurion Airport beginning July 22 after a house near the airport was hit by a Hamas rocket. Most carriers resumed service within two days, but most tourists canceled their reservations.

On Monday, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that tourist arrivals plummeted 26% in July from the same period a year earlier. But Israeli airlines appear to have picked up some of the traffic of foreign airlines that suspended service.

Among other things, Israeli airlines mounted a rescue operation to bring home some 3,000 Israeli tourists who were stranded in Turkey after Turkish carriers stopped flights.

As a result, Germany’s Lufthansa flew just 28,700 passengers into and out of Ben-Gurion in the month, a drop of 14.7% from a year earlier. Swiss’s passenger traffic fell 20.3% to 19,500 and Air France took 25,000, a drop of 23%, according to the IAA figures.

Despite the pickup in passenger loads, none of Israel’s airlines are expecting July to be a profitable month. El Al warned July 21 that its revenue would be cut by $40 million to $50 million because of Operation Protective Edge.

Arkia said in response to the IAA figures that it would end up with losses for the month, citing among other things the fact that it had ordered one new jet and taken other steps in anticipation of a 20% increase in passengers for the summer.

The airline allowed Israelis called up for reserve duty to cancel reservations without penalties, and it lowered airfares and flew planes with relatively low passenger loads.

Israir concurred. “Israir made a day-by-day effort to adapt itself to rapidly changing and challenging market conditions,” a spokesman said. “The increase [reported by the IAA] only partially makes up for the huge damage and doesn’t reflect rates of revenue or profits.”