VIENNA – Since the commencement of service to Israel in 1963, Tel Aviv has proven to be one of Austrian Airlines’ more important routes, linking much more than just Israel and Austria, senior spokesman Wilhelm Baldia informed a group of Israeli journalists visiting its headquarters at Vienna Airport in early December.
“In fact,” Baldia told The Jerusalem Post, “Tel Aviv is Austrian Airlines third-largest international market based on generated income. It is the second most important transfer market from Europe to North America and brought in increased revenues of 13.5 percent and a 24% rise in the number passengers between July 2013 and July 2014.”
It has come a long way since its founding in the late 1950s. From a state-owned enterprise serving a handful of routes, it is today a thriving carrier flying to 130 destinations across three continents.
Fifty-one years ago, Austrian Airlines launched what would evolve into one of its leading routes in the region and a pillar of its intercontinental network.
On November 6, 1963, the Vienna- Tel Aviv route was inaugurated.
Using the world’s most advanced two-engined, short-to-medium haul aircraft at the time, the Sud Aviation Caravelle, the flight was initially operated through Athens arriving on Saturdays and departing the next day.
“Israel is key for our international operations and Tel Aviv is our most important transfer market for the new Austrian long-haul destination, Newark,” Stephan Linhart, Austrian Airlines director of international sales, said during a press briefing. “From a humble beginning serving Tel Aviv with one weekly flight, we now offer double daily service between our hub in Vienna and Israel’s main financial and commercial center.”
The company has flown upwards of 8 million tourists to and from Israel, with pilgrims and youth programs topping the list of the thousands of groups that have connected in Vienna from more than 100 cities on three continents.
According to Linhart, 2,238 passengers flew on the Tel Aviv route in its first year of existence, with the Caravelle offering 80 seats per flight. In the last few years, the carrier has flown some 200,000 passengers each year between Vienna International Airport at Schwechat and Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport.
“With the resilience and hard work that spans five decades the roots we planted in 1963 have blossomed into a solid relationship, demonstrating time and again that Austrian is a trustworthy partner for the tourism industry and business community alike,” added Linhart.
By the early 1970s, the Vienna-Tel Aviv route had expanded to three weekly flights and the start of the 21st century saw Austrian’s 14 weekly flights link Tel Aviv with the heart of Europe at Vienna Airport.
In parallel to Austrian’s expansion of service in Israel, the carrier evolved into Europe’s leading service airline, specializing in flights to Central and Eastern Europe as well as to key financial centers across Asia and North America.
All this transits through Europe’s leading transfer hub, with a minimum transfer time of 25 minutes – unique among the world’s hubs.
“It was no surprise to us that when we expanded our network across the Atlantic and to Central European cities, our local customers played a pivotal part in supporting these routes,” said Linhart, adding, “when we launched our service to Chicago in May 2013, our Israeli customers were third after the Austrian home market and the US in number of reservations.”
At the same time, Austrian Airlines local business customers were among the first to endorse the new intercontinental cabin upgrade on board the airline’s 10 wide-body aircraft.
The €90 million investment encompassed both classes of services, upgrading the economy-class cabin with more ergonomic seats and improved on-demand in-flight entertainment.
“Our Israeli corporate customers in particular are raving about the new long haul business class with innovative seats that turn into 2-m. long flat beds, complemented by new large 38-cm. individual flat screens with state-of-the-art on-demand in-flight entertainment,” Tal Muscal, Lufthansa corporate communications manager, told the Post.
Muscal stressed that as members the Lufthansa Group, Lufthansa German Airlines and Austrian did not compete on the Tel Aviv route but rather cooperated in finding solutions for passengers.
The new business class offers award-winning Do & Co Gourmet dining, the unique chef-onboard service in business class and the coffee-house service in the sky. Austrian has frequently achieved top rankings in the “Best Business Catering” category at the Skytrax World Airline Awards for this service.
Coupled with the investment in Austrian’s new long-haul cabin upgrades, the airline continued its massive expansion in North America last summer, connecting the Vienna hub with Newark Airport, boosting services to Chicago.
Furthermore, an additional Boeing 777-200ER joined the fleet, bolstering the Asian and North American network. This past summer season, the carrier offered 33 weekly flights to Washington DC, Chicago, Toronto and to New York City’s two international gateways, JFK and Newark.
“We have never rested on our laurels, not in 1963 when we launched the Tel Aviv route and definitely not in 2014 when we are continually investing in new product enhancements and examining the potential of new routes, with a proven commitment for premium service across our entire network,” concluded Linhart.
The writer was a guest of Austrian Airlines.