Foreign airlines have taken measures to ensure their flight crews do not stay overnight in Tel Aviv, signaling a trend the industry fears will result in a downward cycle similar to the one experienced through the Intifada.
"We're returning to the scenario five years ago after the bombing of the Dolphinarium [nightclub in Tel Aviv] in June 2001 when not only did crews stop their layovers but tourists stopped coming too, causing airlines to cut their capacities," said one airline industry professional. "Even if the situation will remain as it is, there will be pressure from the foreign airlines to trim capacity once again."
The situation marks a significant blow to the European carriers, many of which raised their capacity at the start of the summer season. Flights into Tel Aviv are currently operating on a combined 20% higher capacity than last year. If the summer becomes a complete write-off, the source added, airlines will reconsider their operations for the winter season.
None of the airlines have reported significant cancellations on bookings for the rest of July and August, however.
Swiss country manager Avner Gordon said the airline has had a 10% cancellation rate on bookings to Israel since the violence broke out in the North a week ago.
In light of the heightened security situation, Swiss has delayed its evening flight out of Zurich by 90 minutes - to leave at midnight - so its cockpit crew can operate the return morning flight instead of spending the day in Tel Aviv to take the second daily flight out.
In a similar manner, Air France, which operates two round-trip flights a day from Paris to Tel Aviv, re-routed its afternoon flight on Tuesday to make a "technical stop" in Cyprus that would enable it to change its crew, thus extending the length of the flight by one hour and its Wednesday morning flight out of Tel Aviv was rescheduled to leave 40 minutes later than planned. An Air France spokesperson said that from Wednesday flights into Israel would not make the stop over but would fly the crew back to Cyprus to spend the night after dropping passengers off in Tel Aviv.
The spokesperson said the decision came in response to the threats from Hizbullah that they have missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
While not effecting a change in its schedule, Lufthansa crew members are now operating the immediate return morning flight to Germany, rather than spending the day in Tel Aviv as they had done until now. The move does not influence operations on the airline's second daily flight to Frankfurt.
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