Last Call for Flights Out of Haifa International Airport After Cypriot Airline Quits

Move dashes Israel's northern city’s minor emergence as international destination

File photo: Tus Airways plane

Haifa’s emergence as an international destination, albeit a modest one, suffered a serious setback Sunday after the Cypriot airline Tus Airways announced it was stopping its service as of Monday, citing problems like the airport’s limited operating hours.

As an international destination, Haifa is still a distant third after Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion and Eilat’s Ovda airports. But the northern city’s airport did see its traffic jump by nearly 350% to 34,000 passengers in the first nine months of the year, from the same time in 2016. Business was brisk enough that a 300-square-meter (3,200-square-foot) duty-free store operating under the Punta Cana brand opened there three months ago.

Tus was responsible for nearly all of Haifa’s growth, operating 29 weekly low-cost flights over the summer to Larnaca, Cyprus, as well as Athens and the Greek islands of Rhodes, Kos and Paphos. Two weeks ago, though, Tus sent a letter to the Israel Airports Authority, warning it would cancel plans for five weekly winter flights, to Larnaca and Paphos, unless officials took steps to address the problems the airline was facing.

The meeting was never scheduled, but Tus announced its decision anyhow and is now seeking slots at Ben Gurion Airport for its flights.

Tus’ biggest concern was that Haifa Airport (formally known as U. Michaeli Airport), closes at 8 P.M. That has often forced delayed flights to land at Ben Gurion Airport instead, which has saddled the airline with extra costs as well as a raft of complaints from passengers on social media.

Tus has other complaints, including problems at Haifa’s passport control, which led to many passengers being denied entry to Israel, as well as the Israeli government’s failure to come through with discounts on airport fees.

Haifa Deputy Mayor Yulia Shtraim said she was seeking an urgent meeting with Tus and expressed confidence that the problems could be resolved.

So far, though, the IAA is taking a tough line. “Tus’ announcement to the authority was unilateral and made despite a series of steps that were taken by the IAA with the aim of expanding international operations at Haifa,” it said in a statement.

“The airline knew what Haifa Airport’s operating hours were before it fixed its schedule. The IAA was quite flexible and extended operating hours in response to requests from the airlines,” it added.

Unless the problems are resolved or another carrier steps in, the loss of Tus will put an end for now to Haifa’s international status. It will also mean lost income for the airport from both the lost fees and lost income from the duty-free shop, which will probably close for lack of business.