Airline's talks with HK ready for takeoff
Israel's links with Hong Kong are taking off and Israeli airline El Al is the real high flier.
A freight permit from the Hong Kong Government last November, a new evening departure slot and a shorter route across central Asia have made its weekly charter service from Tel Aviv a highlight of the airline's Far East operation.
Formal negotiations with Hong Kong on a full air services agreement are scheduled for June 10.
Abraham Roter, El Al general manager for China, Hong Kong and East Asia, said if the trend continued the route would be upgraded from a Boeing 767 to a 747, with more seats, a cargo capacity of 17 tonnes and the range to fly non-stop, without refuelling.
'We look at Hong Kong optimistically,' Mr Roter said.
'We see it as one of the centres of the East for us and as a gateway for other centres.' The airline also has a 70-seat block arrangement with Korean Air and a link with Qantas to bring Australian passengers to Hong Kong en route to Tel Aviv.
El Al's expansion in Asia has been one of the great success stories of the Middle East peace process.
'This was always a dream. We used to envy other airlines,' Mr Roter said. 'They could fly anywhere but Israel used to be a kind of terminus. We couldn't fly East from there.
'Now we are developing Tel Aviv as a hub for the whole of Europe, West and East and we are flying to Beijing, Bangkok, Bombay and Delhi and to Hong Kong.' With the Asian travel industry eyeing the Middle East as a tourism market for the first time, El Al is well placed to provide the connections. It can fly to Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.
The company has just posted its tenth consecutive net annual profit at US$15 million.