Etihad Israel
Etihad has had a touchdown in Tel Aviv... the other airlines that will be part of the 28 weekly services will soon be identified. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Dubai’s budget airline flydubai, Israel’s national carrier El Al and short-haul operator Israir are likely to join Etihad and Emirates in making up the 28 weekly flights scheduled between UAE and Israel.

Earlier this week, Etihad Airways became the first Gulf-based carrier to operate a commercial passenger flight to and from Israel, and bringing Israel’s top travel and tourism leaders. El Al, which flew the first commercial flight to land in the UAE in August after the peace deal, confirmed it has asked to be a “designated airline on the UAE-Israel route”.

Israir, Israel’s third biggest carrier and currently exploring a sale after getting hit badly by the COVID-19 impact, did not immediately comment on its chances. But a top official at NY Koen Group, the UAE headquartered company bidding for Israir, said, he expects the carrier to only operate charter flights to the UAE until next year.

The airline is “already doing three to four charter flights to Abu Dhabi every week,” said Naum Koen, CEO of NY Koen.

The aviation agreement between the countries also allow unlimited charter flights to a smaller airport in southern Israel and 10 weekly cargo flights.

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Deal-making times

Earlier this month, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Deputy Mayor of East Jerusalem, told Gulf News that apart from Emirates and Etihad, budget carriers such as Israir and flydubai had “expressed interest” to fly between UAE and Israel.

Flydubai declined to comment about its plans. “As a national carrier of the UAE, flydubai follows the directives issued by our authorities. The effect the announcement has on travel will be seen with time,” a spokesperson said.

Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, which recently launched several routes, did not immediately respond to a Gulf News query.

Another Israeli airline Arkia has already begun listing Dubai-bound flights on its website with the earliest one being on January 3rd. A one-way ticket costs around Dh720, with fares dropping to Dh540 on some days.

A decisive breakthrough

The commencement of commercial flights will be a game changer for UAE’s airlines, which too have been hit hard by the pandemic. It will lead to a new stream of travellers that could help Dubai and Abu Dhabi partly bounce back from the crisis.

Etihad posted operating losses of $758 million in the first six months of 2020, with revenues hit due to the closure of international borders and the suspension of flights to halt the spread of the virus. Since the beginning of 2020 “it's been a non-stop pressurized litany of things that have gone wrong,” said Etihad chief Tony Douglas during an industry event last month.

Emirates posted a profit of Dh1.7 billion for the year ended March 31, 2020, down 28 per cent from last year.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has predicted a slower-than-expected recovery in passenger traffic this year. Despite the gloomy outlook, airlines are upbeat about the deal with Israel.

“The recent normalisation of diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel and the subsequent signing of a new bilateral air services agreement between both nations will provide tremendous opportunities,” said an Etihad spokesperson.

“Not just for the potential of regular scheduled flights, but also for the growth of trade and tourism within the region and beyond. Etihad looks forward to exploring these opportunities further and to announcing any developments when confirmed.”