Seven years after cutting off service to Israel entirely, Delta Airlines will become the first American carrier to fly non-stop between Ben-Gurion Airport and two US cities. Beginning March 2008, America's fastest growing international airline will begin offering daily service between New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport and Tel Aviv - an addition to the Tel Aviv-Atlanta flights Delta reinstated after a five-year lapse in March 2006. "Delta has been extremely successful in the Israel market since the launch of our non-stop service to Atlanta last spring, and we are pleased to further connect Israel to our growing global network," Frank Jahangir, Delta's staff vice president for sales and affairs in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told reporters at a Tel Aviv press conference Wednesday. Jahangir said the airline decided to add the Tel Aviv-New York route based on the strength of its flights between Israel and Atlanta, which have flown at 80 percent capacity and transported 150,000 passengers between the two destinations over the past year. Passengers between New York and Tel Aviv will be able to connect to many of the 40 destinations served by Delta within the US, as well as to the 58 cities to which the company flies in Latin America and the Caribbean. The airline has spent more than $40 million renovating its facilities at JFK Airport, and will offer passengers on its Tel Aviv-New York flights kosher meals and service in both Hebrew and English. Delta Flight 86, the airline's first between New York and Tel Aviv, won't take off until 9:10 p.m. on March 10, but tickets are already available for purchase at the company's Web site, www.delta.com. Airbus cracks the Israeli market Boeing's exclusive grip on the Israeli aircraft market has come to an end. Israir Airlines announced Tuesday that it will purchase three Airbus A320 jets in 2010, the first time an Israeli carrier has expanded its fleet with planes made in Europe rather than the US. The new jets will be used for flights to the airline's European destinations, Israir officials said, adding that the airline may start flying Airbus A330 craft within the year for service to New York and Bangkok. "I am personally delighted that Israir Airlines has become an Airbus customer," Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy said this week. "We look forward to establishing a long and lasting relationship" with the Israeli carrier. Though Tuesday's deal marks the first time an Israeli air company has purchased planes from Airbus, it's not the first business transaction between an Israeli airline and the European aerospace company. Israir is already operating two aircraft on lease from Airbus, and is considering leasing a third commercial jet for flights this summer. Tourism minister continues national tour Israel Beiteinu MK Yitzhak Aharonovich celebrated his first month as Tourism Minister with a Pessah trip to the Dead Sea, where he joined 50,000 other visitors marking the holiday with concerts, nature walks and swimming at the world's lowest elevation. More than 10,000 tourists purchased tickets for the region's Ahava Festival, one of Israel's biggest cultural events during the holiday and among the most important of the year for Dead Sea tourism. The minister pledged to promote the construction of new hotels in the area, noting that existing overnight facilities reached 100 percent occupancy during the 2007 holiday and that most visitors, consequently, merely made day trips to the region. Aharonovich's travels as Tourism Minister - which have also included stops in Jerusalem and Nazareth - continued Wednesday with a visit to Tiberias, where the deputy Knesset speaker met with the city's mayor, the head of the Jordan Valley Council and key tourism promoters in the region. Number of visitors drops in first quarter Fewer people arrived in Israel in the first quarter of 2007 than in the equivalent period the previous year, according to numbers released this week by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The CBS reported the arrival of 466,500 visitors between January and March of this year, with just over 40% of the visits beginning in March, the start of the busy Pessah travel period. The surge in visitors didn't prevent an overall decline in arrivals to the country from the previous year, however, with 3.8% fewer visits registered to Israel than in the same period in 2006. Arrivals in Israel via Ben-Gurion Airport were only marginally lower than the previous year, with the 356,300 arrivals at the Tel Aviv airport down 1.8% from the year before. Instead, it was entries into Israel by land that took a significant dive, with crossings into Israel from Jordan down 19.7% and crossings from Egypt down 20.2%. By contrast, the strengthening Israeli shekel encouraged additional departures from Israel with 14.1% more Israelis leaving the country by air and just under 15% more crossing into Jordan and Egypt by land. The CBS recorded a total of 294,000 departures in March and 725,100 for the first three months of the year, with 88% of the countries foreign travelers taking their leave of Israel via Ben-Gurion Airport. Of those leaving the country in March, 57% were men. Fewer than one-quarter of those who left Israel two or more times in March were women.