El Al CEO: 'National responsibility' means int'l flights must continue

Flights will be operated according to the level of customer demand, Usishkin said, after the government decided to require 14 days of self-quarantine for all citizens and foreign nationals.

The first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS)
The first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The chief executive of Israeli airline El Al, Gonen Usishkin, vowed that the company would continue flying passengers to destinations worldwide out of a feeling of "national responsibility," despite the extension of self-quarantine requirements to all individuals arriving in Israel as of Monday night.
Flights will only be operated according to the level of customer demand, Usishkin said, responding to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement on Monday to require 14 days of self-quarantine for all citizens and foreign nationals to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"El Al sees a supreme value in maintaining the air routes to and from Israel during the time of emergency, and will therefore continue to operate flights to America, Europe and Africa, according to demand and need," said Usishkin.
Despite his statement, the Israeli flagship carrier said it had no choice but to postpone the opening of new routes to Chicago until June 28, to Dusseldorf until July 3 and to Tokyo until August 29.
El Al has already canceled all flights to China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Italy, and has been forced to cancel or merge flights to a range of European destinations due to falling numbers of passengers.
Customers scheduled to travel during March are able to delay or freeze their flight tickets until the end of February 2021 without additional charges, the company said.
Even prior to the government's blanket quarantine decision, the airline revised its expected drop in revenue between January and April to $140 million-$160m. Financial forecasts are likely to deteriorate even further following the implementation of the new restrictions. Last week, El Al announced its intention to lay off 1,000 permanent and temporary staff – almost a sixth of its workforce – as it rolled out a series of cost-cutting measures implemented to “ensure the future” of the company.
Israeli airlines Arkia and Israir said they were halting all international operations as a result of the announcement.
Arkia said it would immediately discontinue international flights, putting approximately 150 members of staff on unpaid leave and predicting further dismissals. Israir will work to bring back all customers currently abroad by the weekend, before stopping flights until the end of March.
Both airlines plan to continue their domestic operations, shuttling passengers between Ben-Gurion Airport and Eilat's Ramon Airport.
"The decision of the prime minister has shut international operations indefinitely as people are not interested in flying," Arkia International CEO Oz Berlowitz told Ynet. "We will move to the Eilat route, and increase the frequency to 10 flights per day. This is now the time to fly to Eilat."
Popular low-cost airline Wizz Air said it would freeze flights between Israel and Europe from March 12 until March 23, joining a growing list of carriers cancelling all their services to the area. Turkish Airlines will reduce its service from about 50 weekly flights to just 14 flights. Last week, German airline Lufthansa and subsidiaries Swiss Air Lines, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines announced they would halt flights for three weeks.
United Airlines said flights to San Francisco International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport will currently continue as scheduled, while Italian airline Alitalia will now operate only one flight per day between Rome and Tel Aviv. 
Aeroflot, a Russian airline, announced Tuesday night that travelers who purchase airline tickets from Israel can cancel the ticket and get their money back or change their dates once until the end of 2020. 
Anticipating severely reduced demand, the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) said it had placed all temporary employees on unpaid leave, and some employees will be offered early retirement. Hundreds of security staff will also be placed on unpaid leave, beyond the 150 employees who have already been laid off.
Forecasts released by the IAA on Tuesday showed that they expected total daily footfall to decline to fewer than 22,000 passengers later this week, compared to figures exceeding 46,000 earlier this month. All international flights from Ben-Gurion Airport will now depart from Terminal 3, where only two concourses (C and D) will remain open.
From Wednesday, individuals landing at Ben-Gurion Airport from abroad will not be permitted to travel by train. Only individuals arriving on domestic flights, aircrew and airport employees with proof of travel or employment will be permitted to travel.
Meanwhile, the Israel Railways workers' union called on Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Israel Railways CEO Michael Maixner to provide assistance to ensure that members of the public obey the new instructions.
A global impact analysis carried out by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecast total loss of revenue for commercial aviation companies ranging between $63b. and $113b. during 2020, according to different scenarios relating to containment of the coronavirus outbreak. No estimates were made for the impact on cargo operations.
Airline share prices have dropped almost 25% since the outbreak commenced, the IATA added, 21 percentage points greater than the decline that occurred at a similar stage during the 2003 SARS outbreak.
"Airlines are doing their best to stay afloat as they perform the vital task of linking the world’s economies," said IATA director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. "As governments look to stimulus measures, the airline industry will need consideration for relief on taxes, charges and slot allocation. These are extraordinary times."