Exclusive: Israel, Germany set for aviation talks

Misunderstandings had delayed renegotiation of air-route agreement.

airport biz 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
airport biz 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel and Germany are reopening discussions over bilateral aviation agreements following months of deadlock in the talks because of "unfortunate" scheduling and a rigid set of priorities. "We have now scheduled a meeting with the German Aviation Authority in the week of February 18 in Jerusalem," Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) director-general Udi Zohar told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. "Before that, on February 5, we are meeting for aviation talks with the European Union." Since the beginning of October, Germany's Federal Ministry of Transportation, Building and Urban Affairs has been trying to arrange a meeting with the CAA and the Transportation Ministry for another round of bilateral aviation consultations. Under discussion are the question of multiple designation, the number of bilateral frequencies, the route schedule and an amendment of the bilateral code-share arrangement. "It seems appropriate to look for a more flexible arrangement for bilateral air transport to find a sound basis for positive future development of our aviation relations - this also in the interest of growing tourism and traffic demand," Gerd Boosen, the German ministry's deputy director of Air Transport, said in a letter to the CAA seen by The Jerusalem Post. "Therefore, I should like to invite you and your delegation for a next round of aviation consultations in Bonn in December 2007." Several weeks later, in mid-November, after no official reply from the CAA had been received, Boosen sent a follow-up letter in which he offered to come to Tel Aviv on December 18. "I would like to once again underline the firm interest of the German Aviation Authority to meet for a next round of bilateral aviation consultations with Israel before the end of this year," Boosen wrote. "Issues of (at least) double designation per city pair from summer 2008 and of a new frequency framework are to be seen as an urgent matter." At the end of November, Zohar responded that Israel had commenced negotiations with the EU and, due to a heavy workload, suggested holding the talks this February. "The Transportation Ministry dictates a set of priorities and we operate accordingly," he said. "In light of what was perceived as a rejection of the proposal of a round of consultations," the Transportation Ministry said, the German side subsequently requested an urgent meeting set for December 17. The date was again deferred by two days to December 19 by the Transportation Ministry, it said, due to an unfortunate rescheduling from the minister's chambers that was received on short notice. Months of delays and deferrals disgruntled the German authorities. German Ambassador to Israel Herald Kindermann eventually got involved, and was accused of of having used "unfit" language. "In response to this procession of events, you [Kindermann] personally called my office on Thursday, 13/12/2007, regrettably using most unfit language, in protest of what you perceived as an attempt to avoid deliberation of the issue at hand," Transportation Ministry director-general Gideon Sitterman wrote. "There exists no breach of agreement or arrangement concerning the execution of the aviation consultations. These consultations were never confirmed or determined, due to the aforementioned workload." The German Embassy in Israel declined to comment on the letter. "We welcome that agreement has been reached to meet for the next round of German-Israeli aviation talks as soon as possible," the German Embassy said. "They will be held in the traditional friendly and constructive spirit. We therefore have no additional comment on scheduling issues." Meanwhile, Israel has signed new civil aviation agreements with Slovakia and Belgium, allowing more airlines to operate an increasing number of scheduled flights and enabling more competition on airline routes between the countries. The rising numbers and demand of visitors coming to Israel have not gone unnoticed by other airlines, including Lufthansa, which for the last six years has delivered more passengers than any airline other than El Al to Ben-Gurion Airport. In response to increased traffic growth, the German carrier has in recent months been planning to add the Tel Aviv-Munich route starting around Pessah. However, Lufthansa still needs to receive permission to add the flights after a renegotiation of Germany's current aviation agreement with Israel. "With a wonderful growth in traffic to Israel, especially from tourists and business travelers, Lufthansa has decided to restart flights from Munich to Tel Aviv with a daily flight on this route, commencing in the summer season of 2008," Tal Muscal, Lufthansa's press adviser, said this week. "A request has been filed with the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority and we hope to receive their approval in the coming weeks." Lufthansa, which currently operates 14 weekly flights to Israel from Frankfurt, flew three flights a week between Munich and Ben-Gurion until May 2003, eliminating the route when Palestinian terrorist attacks escalated.