El Al, airline that is living up to its name

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 1997, 12:00am

Israel's national airline has a self-explanatory name: El Al. It means 'Upwards'.

It is a message which reflects the company's business ambitions. Passenger numbers, routes and profits should all be heading up.

But a simple, unfussy name does not mean an airline without the trimmings of comfort and courtesy.

'We've put more and more effort into service,' said Abraham Roter, general manager, China, Hong Kong and East Asia.

That is an airline-wide priority. Along with reducing costs - particularly ahead of a planned privatisation next year - service is El Al's number one goal.

In Asia, the airline also has another target in mind - expansion.

On that score, Hong Kong has been a success.

In the past year, with a full air services agreement in place at last, El Al has been able to upgrade its weekly flight from a chartered to a scheduled service and is swapping the route's usual Boeing 767 for a Boeing 747 with increasing frequency as passenger numbers climb and cargoes increase.

Mr Roter predicted that, by October, the airline should be ready to put on the second weekly flight provided for in the new agreement.

'That would give us a daily flight to the Far East,' he said. 'Three to Bangkok, two to Hong Kong and one to Beijing.' That is 'daily' in El Al terms. At present, the airline does not fly on Jewish holidays or the Saturday sabbath.

Come privatisation, El Al hopes it can start acting more commercially and fly seven days a week, which would eliminate a 17 per cent loss of revenue.

The airline also has a 70-seat block arrangement with Korean Air, to tap into South Korea's large and fervent Christian community, a link with Qantas to bring Australian passengers to Hong Kong en route to Tel Aviv and is negotiating an air services agreement with Japan.

'It's a big market for us,' Mr Roter said. 'I cannot forget that more than 16,000 Japanese visited Israel last year even without direct air links and more than 7,000 Israelis travelled to Japan.' 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,' Mr Roter said.

Now El Al is developing Tel Aviv as a Middle Eastern hub for Asia, the whole of Europe, Nairobi and South Africa.

It can provide onward flights and tourism packages to Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Jordan.

With the Asian travel industry now looking seriously at the Middle East as a tourism market for the first time, the airline is better placed than ever to provide the connections.