'Israeli Ryanair' on cards says O'Leary, despite tensions
An "Israeli version of Ryanair" is being eyed by the airline, chief executive Michael O'Leary has told the Irish Independent.
He confirmed that the scale of the airline's ambition in Israel extends far beyond operating just a few flights to the country.
Ryanair has previously indicated it wants to fly to Israel, but the extent of its plans for the country come despite political and military tensions in the region.
Mr O'Leary said Ryanair is also still keen to launch services to Russia from Ireland, despite tensions there.
He blamed a lack of support from tourism authorities as the reason for the delay in launching the routes.
"We're actively talking to the Israeli authorities, but the difficulty is that once you go outside Europe you need to have, in this case, an Israeli air operator's certificate," he explained. "But it's still very much on the front foot for us. But the Israeli authorities have got much more nervous about protecting El-Al from competition because of the recent events.
"What we're looking to do in Israel is something much bigger," said Mr O'Leary, 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 that Ryanair would have a big base in Israel if the plans eventually come to fruition.
Regarding Russia, it had been expected that Ryanair would formally announce a Dublin-St Petersburg route before the end of the year, but that hasn't yet happened.
Mr O'Leary said that Ryanair has everything almost in place to launch the Russia service, including ground handling, but claimed that Tourism Ireland had so far been unwilling to back the service financially.
"Services from Ireland to Moscow and St Petersburg would be very successful," he said. "I think there would be significant demand for them."
"But they're long flights and they would be a relatively low fare for a couple of years while you're building them up," said the airline boss. "What strikes me as surprising is that at a time when the tourism industry is marketing Russia and China as two major targets, is that an airline that's willing to fly to Russia can't get any support from them."
He said that Ryanair would lose money on flights to Russia "for a couple of years" and so needed "significant tourism support".
Mr O'Leary said that Ryanair is "relatively close" to having all the components of a service to Russia in place, but insisted a lack of financial support from Tourism Ireland is a big stumbling block.
"We've talked to them and they say they have no money. Yet they have money for places like China, where there are no direct flights to Ireland," he said.
"If we were a Russian airline wanting to fly to Ireland, the tourism authorities would be falling all over us."