Ryanair to fly new European services to Israel
Ryanair is launching services to Israel in November, marking a long-awaited arrival of the airline in the Middle East.
The debut routes will operate between Ovda Airport in the south of Israel to three European destinations - Budapest in Hungary; Kaunas in Lithuania; and Krakow in Poland.
The carrier, headed by Michael O'Leary, has been eyeing services to Israel for years.
However, it had to await the 2013 signing of an open skies agreement between Israel and the European Union before it had any realistic chance of launching services to the country. That agreement came into force last year.
But rather than choose to serve Ben Gurion Airport - Israel's busiest, which is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - Ryanair has opted to fly to Ovda Airport in the far south of the country. It's located about 300km from Jerusalem and about 60km from the resort town of Eilat.
Last year, Israeli officials established an inter-ministerial panel to explore ways of luring more flights to Eilat. It was reported that overnight stays in Eilat by foreign tourists had declined 42pc since their peak in 2000.
Ryanair had previously offered to fly to the airport at Eilat, but was refused concessions it sought from Israeli authorities in return for launching direct routes to the city from Europe.
Ryanair had intended to inaugurate flights to Eilat Airport, just outside the town, before starting services to Europe from Tel Aviv. It had promised to bring 50,000 foreign tourists to Eilat in the first year of operation, and up to 120,000 annually within a few years.
Ovda Airport is about a 45-minute drive from Eilat, and handles commercial and military aircraft. Ryanair has pledged to carry 40,000 passengers per annum on its three new routes.
The airline's chief commercial officer, David O'Brien, said that Ryanair is continuing to hold talks with Israeli authorities.
"We look forward to growing our Israeli route network in the future," he said.
Mr O'Brien told a news conference that he expected the three new services to result in about $20m (€18m) a year being pumped into Eilat.
He claimed the resort, on the Red Sea coast, could become an attractive alternative to the Canaries for European sunseekers, especially during the winter. He added that it the routes are successful, then more will be launched by Ryanair.
Mr O'Leary told the Irish Independent last year that Ryanair was eyeing significant growth in Israel.
"What we're looking to do in Israel is something much bigger," he said, adding that he hopes for an Israeli version of Ryanair.
"We want to serve markets all over Israel to Russia, central Europe, the UK, Germany and a lot of other markets," he said.
Ryanair's launch in Israel means it will now operate in three continents - Europe, Africa and Asia.