British Airways CEO Alex Cruz (left) hoists an advertisement hailing Mandatory “Palestine to Iraq” flights as he visited Tel Aviv on Thursday with BA Israel country manager Yael Katan and BA revenue management head Joerg Tuensmeyer.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF BRITISH AIRWAYS)
In 1932, sixteen passengers flew in a four-engine biplane on the first Imperial Airways flight to Mandatory Palestine, landing on the Sea of Galilee and taking ferries to shore. That flight took some 20 hours – today, it only takes five.
“The State of Israel has been one of [the] most important destinations in British Airways’ history,” CEO Alex Cruz said on Thursday at Tel Aviv’s beach-side Carlton Hotel.
As British Airways celebrates 85 years of service, its parent company, International Airlines Group, is bidding for bankrupt low-cost Monarch Airway’s runway slots at Gatwick Airport.
If the company acquires those slots, giving it more capacity, then one of its subsidiaries – Aer Lingus, Iberia or Vueling – could consider adding a London-Eilat route.
Monarch, which went bankrupt last month, had previously run a London-Eilat route from Luton airport during the winter months. The company lost a high-court battle in the UK on Wednesday, in a bid to trade its runway slots to other carriers in exchange for paying back creditors, complicating the plan for British Airways to set up a direct Eilat flight.
A few weeks ago, Cruz met with a delegation of Israeli start-ups in his office, to discuss acquiring hi-tech products and technologies for the British flag carrier.
“From cybersecurity to topics that are better known, like search and online marketing, some Israeli companies are doing it in a very special way,” Cruz said, adding that he was also looking at Israeli start-ups which specialize in video and other digital services. “We are sure we will do more and more business together [with Israel].”
Cruz also met with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) earlier in the day, to discuss greater connectivity with Israel and how British Airlines could provide more options for Israeli customers. “All these efforts to promote Israel are having an effect,” he added.
British Airways operates 14 weekly flights on the Tel Aviv-London route, bringing some 150,000 passengers to Tel Aviv annually.
Unlike most of its European competitors, British Airways and its sister airline, Iberia, classifies the Ben-Gurion route as “long haul,” meaning that passengers get complimentary meals and access to an in-seat entertainment system.
This week, the company also announced that it is investing £4.5 billion to refurbish cabins on its 128 planes, upgrade the fleet, equip all seats with a power station and Wi-Fi, and acquire several new wide-bodied aircraft – both Airbus A35s and Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners.
British Airways, privatized in 1987, services some 200 destinations worldwide. Its parent company, International Airlines Group, has a market value of £12.38b.