Foreign Airlines Lobby for Open Skies

Foreign airline executives yesterday lobbied Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to help thwart efforts by Antitrust Commissioner Ronit Kan to cancel their code-sharing agreements with local airlines. Kan is trying to include the cancellation, which the Knesset Economics Committee is slated to debate, into the economic arrangements bill for the 2007 budget.

Mofaz yesterday met for the first time with the executives, known as the panel of foreign airlines, to discuss the issue.

Another issue under discussion is the Civil Aviation Authority's refusal to approve beyond the end of the year Austrian Airlines' request to operate 14 weekly flights. Nevertheless, Austrian is selling tickets for those unapproved 2007 flights.

Transportation Ministry Director General Gideon Siterman, who heads the committee exploring the possibility of opening the skies to greater competition, updated the foreign airline executives on the committee's work. He also asked the panel to submit an official position paper on the issue.

Panel members also urged Mofaz to accelerate his joint initiative with the Environment Ministry to open up Ben Gurion airport at night to airplanes with quiet engines. The airport is currently closed between 1:40 A.M. and 5:30 A.M.

The foreign carrier executives, headed by Continental Airlines Israel chief Avi Friedman, also asked Mofaz to work with the European Union on easing new security regulations that prohibit bringing liquids on board flights to Europe.

"The meeting with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz was very good," Friedman told TheMarker. "The minister demonstrated quite a bit of readiness to help out, and took it upon himself to deal with all the issues we raised."