El Al Plans Turkey Resumption; Begins Oman Overflights

El Al
Credit: Rob Finlayson

El Al Israel Airlines is the latest Israeli carrier to schedule flights to Turkey following a recent warming of diplomatic ties between the two countries. The airline has also become the first from Israel to overfly Oman after the Gulf nation opened its airspace to all carriers.

The Turkish expansion will see El Al launch flights between Tel Aviv Ben Gurion (TLV) and Istanbul (IST) from March 30, initially operating three times a week using Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Service will be on behalf of leisure subsidiary Sun d’Or and rise to 4X-weekly in mid-April.

The move comes after Israel and Turkey last August agreed to restore full diplomatic relations and reappoint their ambassadors in Ankara and Tel Aviv. The two countries spent years at odds over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The detente has led to the signing of a new bilateral civil aviation agreement—the first between Israel and Turkey since 1951—paving the way for Israeli carriers to resume commercial service to Turkey for the first time since 2007.

Israir was the first Israeli airline to return to Turkey with Tel Aviv-Istanbul flights commencing on Feb. 16. Arkia Israeli Airlines also began operating flights on the same sector on Feb. 26.

El Al, Israir and Arika join Turkish carriers Corendon Airlines, Pegasus Airlines, SunExpress and Turkish Airlines in providing nonstop commercial passenger service between Israel and Turkey.

The launch of El Al’s TLV-IST route will increase capacity between Tel Aviv and Istanbul to 55,629 two-way weekly seats on a city-pair basis, OAG data shows. At the start of the year, the figure was about 42,500 seats. Israel’s government expects 1 million Israelis will visit Turkey in 2023, up from around 800,000 who last year traveled to the country onboard foreign airlines.

Meanwhile, El Al has become the first Israeli airline to operate services over the skies of Oman after the sultanate announced on Feb. 23 that it would open its airspace to all carriers. It comes seven months after Saudi Arabia permitted Israeli carriers to overfly the kingdom.

On Feb. 26, El Al Flight 083 used a new corridor over Saudi Arabia and Oman en route from Tel Aviv to Bangkok (BKK). The service took less than eight hours in total—reducing the flight time by more than two hours.

The developments in Turkey and Oman come as El Al plans to launch four international routes next month, including the Istanbul service. From March 1, flights will begin to Tokyo Narita (NRT), operating 2X-weekly using Boeing 787-8s. The carrier has twice planned to launch flights between the cities in the past, but each attempt was thwarted by the pandemic.

An initial launch date of March 2020 was postponed as the aviation industry ground to a halt, while a second try in March 2022 was also abandoned following the omicron outbreak and subsequent travel restrictions imposed by Japanese authorities.

Once Tel Aviv-Tokyo flights begin, El Al will become the sole operator of nonstop service between Israel and Japan, while Tokyo will become the carrier’s third destination in the Asia-Pacific region. It already serves Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and Phuket (HKT), Thailand.

From March 13, El Al plans to commence a 2X-weekly service to Porto (OPO) in Portugal, followed by a 3X-weekly route to Dublin (DUB) three days later. Both destinations will be served using 737-800s.

Earlier this month, it emerged that the carrier will also launch a weekly Tel Aviv-Fort Lauderdale (FLL) service from Sept. 13 with 787-8s, which will be suspended from Oct. 12, resuming year-round from spring 2024.

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.