Wednesday, 11 March 2009
El Al have said that whilst it is not in their short term plans to fly to Australia, it is "a disconnect from reality that one day El Al will be in Australia."
As Peter Kohn wrote in the Australian Jewish News
EL AL, Israel's national airline, will beef up its Asian service from the end of March, but according to El Al's regional manager for Asia and Oceania, Yair Berrebi, there are no short-term plans to fly direct and return routes to Australia.
Berrebi, who was in Australia for a brief visit to meet El Al representatives and travel industry executives, said El Al sees the local Jewish community as its "core business" in Australia.
Long-term hopes for direct flights from Sydney or Melbourne into Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv remain high, after El Al recently announced direct flights to Israel from Sao Paolo, Brazil, which has a sizeable Jewish community.
However, Berrebi said the Brazil connection was planned before the current economic downturn, and the airline would wait to see how the global picture developed before planning any new direct routes.
"I don't think it's a disconnect from reality that one day El Al will be in Australia," Berrebi told The AJN, citing the size and level of support for the airline nationally.
Meanwhile, Australian travellers can take advantage of a comprehensive network of connecting flights to Hong Kong, Beijing, Bangkok and Mumbai, with outbound carriers including Qantas (which has a frequent-flyer partnership with El Al), Cathay Pacific and Thai Airlines, he said.
A fifth weekly El Al flight from Hong Kong will commence from the end of this month.
Berrebi said a code-share agreement with a major airline is being negotiated, with El Al set to make an announcement soon.
When the Gaza conflict flared up in December, El Al's Asian division was hit with more than 2000 cancellations in 72 hours from some 16 countries.
Although the Gaza crisis has now subsided, the impression in Asian markets is that "tourists, pilgrims, and some from the Jewish community feel too uncomfortable to come to Israel".
In 2008, El Al recorded a rise of 60 per cent in Australian passenger volumes over the previous year's figure.
"I see it as a salute to Israel to have this kind of support from this community."
El Al's general manager for Australia Romy Leibler said support from Jewish organisations was a vital element of the relationship.
"We don't have a moral exclusivity, but we make sure we do our best to be seen as the airline of the community and the airline of Israel."
Business and trade travel between Australia and Israel is becoming a growing part of the passenger mix, he said.