Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary wants to create an Israel-based offshoot and turn Ben-Gurion Airport into a low-cost hub, but is frustrated by Israeli authorities, according to an interview published Sunday in the Irish Independent.
“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 told the paper. “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.”
El Al was among the only major airlines to continue flying in and out of Israel after a Hamas rocket landed near Ben-Gurion Airport in July, prompting the US Federal Aviation Authority to ban American flights to Israel for a 36-hour period.
Since Israel signed the Open Skies Agreement with the EU last year, a slew of low-cost airlines, such as EasyJet and Wizz Air, have established new routes with Israel. El Al even launched its own low-cost carrier, called Up.
Ryanair does not yet operate any routes to Israel, and O’Leary also blamed Israeli authorities for slowing the process.
But his ambitions were “much bigger” than operating a few flight routes to and from Israel, he said. “We want to serve markets all over Israel to Russia, central Europe, the UK, Germany and a lot of other markets.”
Hungarian discount airline Wizz Air reportedly also wanted to set up shop in Israel, but was rebuffed by the civil aviation authority.
“You can’t open up a base if you’re a foreign company in Israel. It’s a nonstarter,” said an industry source, who cast doubt on the seriousness of the company’s interest in moving forward with such a plan. “If it wanted to, Ryanair would have no problem launching a route to Tel Aviv as other low-cost carriers have done,” the source added.
Though the company could still turn Tel Aviv into a hub of sorts by simply adding many international routes, it could garner certain benefits and operating flexibility by basing an offshoot company in Israel.
The Tourism Ministry said obstacles could be overcome, and it welcomed the idea of Ryanair expanding business in Israel.
“The company has various requirements, not all of which the Airports Authority is prepared to give a positive response to,” a ministry spokesman said. The best way to move forward would be to renew meetings with the Airports Authority, the ministry said, adding that it would be pleased to facilitate such meetings in light of the potential tourism a new travel hub could bring to Israel.
The Transportation Ministry did not respond to several requests for comment on the issue.