Israir opens Moscow route in anticipation of visa waiver

The Open Skies revolution is gaining momentum with Israir's launch next month of twice weekly flights to Moscow.

israir 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
israir 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
The Open Skies revolution is gaining momentum with Israir's launch next month of twice weekly flights to Moscow. Israir announced on Sunday the flights would starting on June 16, at an initial price of $432 round trip. Israir will join El AL Israel Airways and two Russian carriers on the route. Negotiations on permission for a second Israeli operator (and a second Russian carrier) between Ben-Gurion Airport and Moscow followed a bilateral agreement signed earlier this year with the Russian Airports Authority. An Israir Airbus 320 passenger airplane will depart from Ben-Gurion for Moscow on Mondays and Fridays. Israir is due to receive designated carrier status and formal permission to operate regular flights between Tel Aviv and Moscow following a request the company submitted to the Transportation Ministry in January. The request was submitted after El Al agreed to share many of its routes with other local airlines companies, in exchange for the state funding 80 percent of Israeli carriers' security costs. Israir said it anticipated an increase in Russian tourists arriving in Israel and in Israeli tourists visiting Russia once tourist visas are no longer required. In preparation for that traffic growth, Israir recently signed distribution agreements with several tourist operators in Russia and in Israel. "We expect a high demand for this route, which is very attractive for the Russian and the Israeli passengers. At the same time, we await the Transportation Ministry's [formal] permission to turn this route between Tel Aviv and Moscow into a regular route," said Guy Rozen, Israir's chairman. "Looking ahead, we hope to increase the number of weekly flights to this important destination for the benefit of the Israeli and Russian passengers." Also on Sunday, the Tourism Ministry said it was boosting its efforts to increase the number of seats on flights to Israeli, mostly from Europe, to prepare for the anticipated arrival of 5 million tourists per year by 2012. "We are seeing a shortage of seats on flights to Israel despite the airline companies' willingness to increase the number of flights. The existing bilateral aviation agreements limit the number of carriers that can fly to Israel and the frequency of their weekly flights," said Shaul Tzemach, director-general of the Tourism Ministry. "As a result of this situation, we are missing out on some of the tourists who ask to visit Israel, and failing to exploit the potential of the local tourism industry. Tzemach called for immediate action to create a strong legal basis for new bilateral aviation agreements. According to the ministry, in future bilateral agreements with European airport authorities it will work to permit the scheduled operation of two Israeli and two foreign airlines between the main airport in each country. Currently, in many of the cases, only one Israeli carrier can fly to each destination. In addition, the ministry is seeking permission for an Israeli carrier to fly to a secondary airport in each European country and to increase flight frequencies between Israel and Europe. An increase of 50%-60% is forecast on the routes between Israel, France and the UK by 2010. In response, the third Israeli airline company, Arkia, might win flying rights to these two destinations. Furthermore, the ministry is seeking to add a third carrier on the Moscow route following anticipated growth of 200% in demand on the route by 2010. The ministry is also calling for the increase in the number of seats on flights from Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain and the Nordic states to Israel and vice versa.