El Al profit soars, CEO urges foreign carriers to resume Israel flights


By Steven Scheer

LOD, Israel (Reuters) – El Al Israel Airlines on Wednesday swung to a first-quarter profit, boosted by strong demand at a time when foreign carriers have halted or curtailed flights to Israel because of the conflict with Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The Israeli flag carrier said it earned $80.5 million in January-March, versus a $34.4 million loss a year earlier. Revenue rose 48% to $738 million, while its passenger load factor rose to 93% from 85%.

El Al’s CEO called on foreign airlines to resume flying and add flights to Israel to help alleviate pressure on the Israeli carrier.

“There is more demand than supply and we cannot add more capacity,” Dina Ben Tal Ganancia told Reuters. “We did whatever we could and we are stretched to the edge of our capacity … There is a lot of pressure on our shoulders to add more flights but we can’t.”

Since Israel’s war with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas which followed Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, almost all foreign airlines halted flights to Tel Aviv.

This left El Al – with a fleet of just 43 planes – to handle all passenger traffic.

European carriers have started flying to Israel again, although on a reduced schedule. United has restarted U.S. flights but they are currently suspended for another week, with Delta also set to resume in June.

The CEO said El Al had ended non-performing routes like Johannesburg and Toronto and has boosted flights to popular destinations such as the United States and Asia.

Before the conflict, El Al had faced fierce competition from foreign carriers and its market share at Ben Gurion International Airport had fallen to around 25%.

For the first four months of 2024, the market share is 56% as its number of passengers rose 18% over the same period in 2023.

Ben Tal Ganancia dismissed criticism from the public that El Al has taken advantage of the crisis to keep airfares high. She said it was a matter of supply and demand as well as the need to save space for last minute diplomatic needs.

She said that half of El Al’s passengers are paying less than the average price in 2023.

The other 50% face higher prices, she said, especially those who booked last minute tickets, and those that had flights cancelled by competitors just a few weeks or days before departure.

“There are very few seats available … so the prices go up,” said Ben Tal Ganacia.

El Al in March agreed to buy three more long-haul Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets, with an option for six more.

A decision on renewing its short haul fleet with either Boeing or Airbus planes will be made in a few weeks, El Al’s chief financial officer said.

El Al’s shares were down 1.1% in afternoon trade in Tel Aviv and are up 48% so far in 2024.

(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by David Goodman and Jane Merriman)

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