EL AL: Will direct flights Tel Aviv to Melbourne, Australia actually happen in 2024?
The Israeli airline has harboured plans for a direct 15/17 hour 8,535-mile route between Tel Aviv and Melbourne since before the pandemic in 2020. With some new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and the ability now to traverse the airspace of Saudi Arabia and Oman that is looking more and more likely, with a proposed starting date in 2024. Or is it?
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El Al had scheduled test flights back in 2019 to take off in 2020 to work out the feasibility of two major elements. The first is commercial viability – meaning demand, and whether people would pay a premium for the direct service (although how you do that with a bunch of test flights, I don’t know). The second I would think is logistic viability. What cargo or passengers would you need to forego to safely fly such a long direct route?
An announcement was made yesterday (15 March 2023) by the Victorian Minister for Industry and Innovation, Ben Carroll in Melbourne and EL AL CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia in Tel Aviv ‘to work together to secure non-stop Tel Aviv to Melbourne flights by June 2024‘.
With eyes on 44,000 seats to Melbourne per year and a potential AU$48 million boost to the state’s economy and 155 jobs, the Victorian government is very supportive, as it has been with other airlines. And by supportive – I mean they are paying them to service Melbourne:
‘EL AL will join a growing list of airlines that have been supported by the Labor Government to expand international flights to Melbourne, including Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, Bamboo Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Scoot.’Media Release from Victorian Premier Dan Andrews (my emphasis above)
The important word here is ‘supported‘, which means subsidy.
Everything needs to align
This is going to be a tricky route to work, even with more than a year before it starts and a schedule of three days a week and using the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. I have no idea what the demand is for such a route out of Australia and New Zealand, or out of Israel for that matter. It will be the only direct route, so there is that. However, the joint statement implies that Tel Aviv might be trying to establish itself as a bit of a hub servicing passengers wishing to travel onward to Europe. That as a play, despite some issues, might be a way forward.
But there is a downside to the proposal. First up El Al planes on the whole are ‘heavy’, that’s due to a range of anti-terrorist devices onboard, so they will need to be fueled up, and probably passenger capacity limited to make the journey. Even if the planes are full that is going to be a challenge to the economics of this route. Maybe they are prepared to make it a loss leader because they can make money on the onward journeys to European destinations.
It’s reported that El Al will charge a 30% premium on this route above what an indirect route ticket would cost passengers. That’s in line with what Qantas charges for direct Perth to London fares on the Dreamliner.
El Al’s Dreamliners have interiors designed by PriestmanGoode who have a lot of experience in seat and cabin design. There are three classes of cabins starting with a Business Class (‘Business First’) of 32 x 21″ wide seats and direct aisle access in a 1-2-1 configuration. Seats recline to form a 78″ long flatbed with a 16″ HD screen to view entertainment. Think United Airlines Polaris seats.
Next are 28 Premium Economy seats – new to El Al in a 2-3-2 format with 38″ of pitch. Just over 19″ wide, they have 13″ screens.
Finally, the remainder of the cabin is devoted to 222 Economy Class seats with up to 31″ of pitch, 17″ wide seats and 12″ screens. A bit squishy for my liking on a 15 to 17 hour route. The Economy seats do have AC and USB charging sockets. My bet is that not all of these seats will be bookable due to capacity limits to make this ultra-long-haul route possible.
El Al is not a member of any of the major alliances, but it is a partner of Qantas, so you can earn and redeem points and book using a QF codeshare, which will also get you status credits.
I don’t want to sound pessimistic, as I would love to catch this service in Melbourne to head to Tel Aviv, but I think it is going to be very tricky to make this work economically and logistically. I can see that if anything goes wrong, like some airspace restrictions in the middle east, or headwinds or weather events, the economics of this direct flight could be adversely affected.
Still, there are a lot of months before June 2024, so they have the test flight results and the time to work out the economics and logistics.
Am I confident this will get off the ground? Mmmm. Call me when they are bookable.
(thanks to onemileatatime, ET, Australian Aviation and Jewish Press as additional sources)
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