Budget Airline Ryanair Expresses Interest in Entering Israeli Market

Says Israel must ratify open-skies aviation pact.

European low-cost airline Ryanair has expressed an interest in offering flights to Israel and is calling on Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to sign the so-called open-skies aviation policy with the European Union.

Israel has already agreed in principle to the open-skies pact - which is expected to greatly increase flights offered by European airlines - but has been delaying a final decision over concerns about its impact on local air carriers, notably El Al Israel Airlines.

Ryanair has suggested that these concerns could be addressed by the Irish-based carrier committing not to fly to airports in Europe that El Al serves for a period of three years. Ryanair rejects El Al's contention that the open-skies agreement - which will give the Israeli carrier opportunities to fly to destinations of its choice in the European Union - will lead to El Al's collapse.

Ryanair projects that it could offer service from Israel to 40 new destinations and fly 2.2 million passengers a year to and from the country. The carrier said it expects a large proportion of these passengers would be foreign tourists coming to Israel, and claims such an annual influx of foreign tourists would inject 480 million euros into the Israeli economy.

The Transportation Ministry did not respond for this report and El Al declined to comment.

Ryanair, which was founded in 1985, is considered the largest airline flying within Europe. It has made a practice of offering service to secondary airports, which have less air traffic and lower operating costs. In its first phase, the open-skies agreement, once ratified by Israel, would provide for new service between Israel and these secondary airports.

The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee has called for further examination of the implications of the open-skies pact on Israeli airlines, but that process is in its final stages and, once it is complete, it is expected the agreement will be presented to the cabinet for approval. One option being proposed is the nationalization of El Al.

EasyJet, which is one of the budget airlines currently serving Israel, announced this month it had passed the half-million mark in the number of passengers it had flown on its routes to and from Israel. It began service in late 2009 and now has seven weekly flights to London Luton Airport. Due to demand on the route, it will be adding two additional weekly flights. It has also announced service from Israel to the British city of Manchester. EasyJet also flies from Israel to other destinations in Europe.

Low-cost carrier Air Berlin has boosted its service to the German capital. It also offers flights to the United States via Europe.