20201023 dubai international airport
Israel's El Al will be the latest airline to call on Dubai International Airport, starting December 13. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Israel’s flag carrier El Al will join flydubai in launching 14 weekly flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai, as opportunities start to open up on what could prove to be an exceptionally busy route. The first El Al flight is scheduled for December 13, while flydubai’s Tel Aviv bound service commences on Thursday (November 26).

Until a mutual visa entry agreement comes into force between the countries, or until there is another bilateral solution, Israeli travellers can enter the UAE with a foreign passport that allows entry to the destination and/or receive a valid visa prior to the flight.

“Three months after the historic first commercial flight ever between Israel and the UAE - and the first Israeli flight to overfly Saudi Arabia - we are pleased to announce the start of our scheduled flights to the UAE,” said Michael Strassburger, Vice-President for Commercial at El Al, in a statement.

It was on an El Al commercial flight that the first Israeli delegation – and also having Jared Kushner of the US - landed in Abu Dhabi on August 31. It set the wheels in motion for the signing of the Abraham Accords in Washington on September 15.

The flights will be operated by a Boeing 737-900 aircraft as well as the airline's newest addition, the 787 Dreamliner. “We are excited to serve our customers on the nonstop flights to Dubai,” Strassburger said. “We will integrate the Dreamliner aircraft within our operations and offer passengers attractive prices in all classes of service.”

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More to come?

Interestingly, immediately after the treaty between the UAE and Israel was signed, the talk was about 28 weekly services between the countries. Now, flydubai and El Al have confirmed 14 flights each, while Etihad will have daily flights from March 28, 2021. It remains to be seen whether the aviation authorities and airlines plan to add more to the original plans.

Quick to move

El Al has been quite busy in recent days in building up its UAE bound exposure. It has struck a codeshare deal with Etihad Airways, which will also apply to their loyalty programmes and destination management services.

Although El Al does not have a vacation arm, the airline is working closely with Israeli tour operators to offer packages in the UAE. “So we provide the wings, and they work with the tour operators in the UAE to develop the packages,” said Stanley Morais, Director of International Affairs at the Israeli airline.

Turnaround momentum

The debt-saddled airline, which has not reported a profit in the last two years, is in the midst of a turnaround. “There has been an agreement with the unions that approximately 2,000 out of the 6,500 workers we have will be dismissed,” said Morais. “We were the first ones affected by the coronavirus and I think we will be the last ones getting out of it - it's been very challenging.”

In the UAE, Israeli carriers see a new market “that could potentially rejuvenate” the industry. There is also an understanding that Israeli airlines will be able to fly over Saudi Arabia, Morais added.

“It will assist us on our flights to East - especially India - and perhaps other places in Southeast Asia, and will allow us to ensure that our cost structure is much better”

Build a Gulf network

Bahrain and Israel have also normalized ties in recent months and announced plans to launch an online visa system along with weekly flights. “We welcome the normalization with Bahrain, it’s a much smaller market,” said Morais. “We will have to see how that develops in the future in order to make a decision. Right now we're focusing on the UAE.”