El Al anticipates some 25,000 passengers on its planned direct flights between Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo, Brazil by the end of the year, and aims to double this figure next year. The first flight is scheduled for May 2, and there will be three weekly flights in each direction, marketing director Amit Livni told The Jerusalem Post. Demand for the tickets, which went on sale a month ago, is high, said Livni, and the May 2 flight is expected to be full. Flying time is about 15 hours to Sao Paulo and 14 hours back to Tel Aviv. Passengers will fly a Boeing 777, which holds 281 passengers and has an advanced entertainment system. Galit Birenboim-Navom, of El Al's marketing research and development department, said passengers will have access to the VOD (Video on Demand) Entertainment System, which offers a variety of movies, TV shows and games. What makes this system unique is that passengers can stop what they are watching while they go to the restroom, or play something again. Connecting flights are available to other South American cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. A flight to Buenos Aires is about two hours, and the connecting flight is cheaper than the price offered by other companies, Livni claimed. The fare to Sao Paulo begins at $999, Livni said. Livni noted that when El Al began its direct flights to Bangkok eight years ago, relatively few Israelis flew to Thailand. Today, about 200,000 Israeli passengers fly each year, Livni said. "We believe the same phenomenon will happen here," he said, noting that some 95,000 Israelis flew to South America last year. El Al CEO Haim Romano visited Argentina and Brazil recently and met with government officials to encourage tourism to Israel, Livni said. Romano also met with leaders of the Christian community to encourage pilgrims to visit the Holy Land. Christian pilgrims in South America will be inclined to come to Israel in May for the Pope's trip, and his visit will encourage future pilgrimage, Livni said. El Al said it would offer a special promotional deal for people in Latin American countries with relatives in Israel, and Israelis with relatives there. They would be offered reduced fares, Livni said, noting that the details were being worked out. El Al is launching the flight to Brazil this year as a part of the company's 2010 strategy to expand its market amid a reduction in gasoline prices, Livni said. El Al is constantly examining new destinations, he said. One destination being evaluated is Tokyo, but this would probably not happen before 2010, Livni said. The Tokyo airport is very crowded, he said, and El Al has not yet received a permit to land there. El Al would also like to resume flights to Scandinavia, but this depends on the economic situation improving, Livni said. Flights to Scandinavia were stopped in 2001, during the second intifada.