Israel’s Ben Gurion airport grew by 10% in 2008; El Al starts Sao Paulo service in May

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While air travel demand stagnated across much of the world in 2008, passenger numbers at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv grew by 9.7% to 11.55 million. The airport is by far the largest in the country followed by Eilat (with just over one million passengers) and Sde Dov (700,000 passengers in 2008).

While national carrier El Al is seeing its market share at the airport gradually being eroded it is launching its first new route for some time this summer, to Sao Paulo, its first destination in South America. Flights will operate thrice-weekly. Another highlight for Tel Aviv airport is the start of non-stop flights to Philadelphia which US Airways will initiate at the start of July.

Chart: Tel Aviv traffic 2002-2007, Annual passengers (millions)
Source: IAA
Chart: Seasonality of international routes at TLV
Source: IAA
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Defying gravity: While demand dropped elsewhere, Ben Gurion International/Tel Aviv grew by 9.7% to 11.55 million passengers last year. Historically it seems to have its own dynamic; maintaining growth despite regional conflicts such as the 2006 incursion in Lebanon.

The airport follows a fairly traditional seasonality profile with a pronounced summer peak in July and August.

El Al’s declining market share

Although El Al’s share of the Tel Aviv market is slowly declining it is still the leading airline at the airport, transporting 4.13 million passengers from the airport in 2007. Operating a fleet of over 30 all-Boeing aircraft the airline currently serves 37 destinations in 26 countries with non-stop scheduled services. Long-haul destinations include Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Mumbai and Toronto, plus three destinations in the US; New York JFK, New York Newark and Los Angeles. The airline’s three busiest routes based on seat capacity are Paris CDG, New York JFK and London Heathrow.

US and UK are leading country markets

Analysis of current scheduled seat capacity reveals that the US and the UK are the leading country markets. Apart from El Al’s three routes there are also non-stop services with Delta from Atlanta and New York JFK, and with Continental from Newark. The daily US Airways A330 service to Philadelphia starting in July will add a further transatlantic option.

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Jet2.com begins this weekly service on 21 May 2009 – the only link from this major city to the north of the UK. From October the route is set to increase to twice weekly, departing Sundays and Thursdays. “This launch emphasises our drive to continue to innovate and expand our reach into a variety of countries and markets” says Philip Meeson, boss of Jet2.com.
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More for Ben: Domestic traffic plays only a small role, but when Sde Dov airport in northern Tel Aviv closes, around 700,000 domestic passengers will move to Ben Gurion.

El Al, British Airways and bmi all currently serve London Heathrow. El Al also serves London Stansted on a less regular basis though frequency will increase in May to almost daily. Thomsonfly, which in November 2007 became the first LCC to serve Israel, will terminate its Tel Aviv services from Luton and Manchester at the end of April. However, jet2.com will commence weekly flights from Manchester on 21 May. Other LCCs that have since operated scheduled service to Israel include Spanish carrier clickair and German airline TUIfly.com.

New routes to Germany and Ukraine

Apart from the previously noted new routes there will be additional new direct weekly services operated by Ukrainian carrier Aerosvit to Donetsk, Lviv and Simferpol. Lufthansa will complement its existing double-daily flights to Frankfurt with a new four times weekly service to Munich operated by an A340-300. This starts on 26 April. Sun D’or, the charter subsidiary of El Al, will begin serving both Bratislava and Zagreb on 15 April with Boeing 757s.


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