Israeli airlines had a whole lot of winning last week.
El Al, which has been besieged by pilot issues for years, finally came to an agreement with their pilot’s union at the beginning of the week, good through the end of 2025.
That’s an issue that was weighing heavily on El Al CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia when I met her at El Al headquarters while I was in Israel a couple weeks ago. Pilot actions were causing flight delays and cancellations and blocking the ability to bring the airline’s Boeing 777s back into service.
With the new agreement the airline should see better operations and be able to add more long-haul destinations.
Shlomi Am Shalom, Head of Communications and Government Relations at El Al, tells me that the airline hopes to have 2 of the 777s back in the sky this year and 2 more back online next year. Currently they still have their old seating configuration, but they hope to have them retrofitted with new business class seats by the 1st quarter of 2023. With a wider fuselage than the 787, the 777 should offer superior business class seat and aisle space.
And then on Thursday, Saudi Arabia agreed to allow Israeli airlines to overfly their airspace.
That is a real game changer. It will shave several hours off flights to the east.
El Al will be able to fly on routes to India on narrowbody 737s that currently eat up valuable widebody flight time. While it’s always nice to fly on a widebody plane like El Al’s 787 Dreamliner, if you can turn an 8 hour flight into 5 hour flight, switching to a 737 is a no-brainer. That frees up a widebody airframe to operate a new route that El Al hopes to launch, such as Melbourne or Tokyo.
Thanks to the agreement with Saudi Arabia, a flight to Melbourne goes from an 18 hour ultra-long haul that pushes the 787 to its limits into a 15 hour flight that the plane is more than capable of handling.
And with 777s now in play, El Al can start to get very creative on optimizing their fleet and launching new routes.
El Al won’t be the only airline to benefit from the new airspace.
Israeli low-cost carrier Arkia is looking into flying to destinations like Sri Lanka and Thailand that weren’t previously tenable with its narrowbody fleet. The airline will fly to Goa, India starting in November, a route that will be hours shorter thanks to the new overfly rights. I still think it’s a pity that their widebody A330-900neo order never materialized, though I’m happy I got the chance to be taken to Airbus Headquarters when that order was still on the books.
Hopefully the shorter travel time will also translate into lower airfare as well.
Israeli airlines are hoping that the new rules go into effect this week. The network planners at Arkia, El Al, and Israir must be having a field day with all the possibilities!
What new routes do you hope to see operate to Tel Aviv?