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    Ben-Gurion Airport: 99% drop in traffic compared to May 2019

    A total of 18,197 international passengers passed through Israel’s leading transportation hub last month, compared to approximately 1.93 million during May 2019.

    An Israeli flag carrier El Al Airlines plane is seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

    An Israeli flag carrier El Al Airlines plane is seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel

    (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

    Ben-Gurion Airport witnessed a 99% drop in international passenger footfall last month when compared to May 2019, demonstrating the scope of the blow suffered by Israel’s aviation industry amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    A total of 18,197 international passengers passed through Israel’s leading transportation hub last month, compared to approximately 1.93 million during May 2019.

    The destination with the highest volume of activity was the United States, with more than 36% of all passengers (6,563 in total) either arriving from or traveling to the country from Ben-Gurion Airport. The vast majority (6,086 passengers) traveled to or from Newark Liberty International Airport onboard flights operated by United Airlines.

    Plunging footfall reflects a ban on all foreign nationals entering Israel since March 18, even if they can prove their ability to remain in home isolation for 14 days upon arrival. The entry ban is currently valid until June 15.

    Domestic air travel has also recorded a dramatic decline, with only 8,979 passengers passing through Ben-Gurion Airport, compared to almost 40,000 in May 2019.

    The 77.25% drop in footfall is even more substantial given that Ben-Gurion only replaced Sde Dov Airport as central Israel’s sole domestic aviation hub in July 2019.

    In more optimistic news, cargo transportation last month registered a slight increase (1.52%) compared to May 2019. A total of 28,751 tons arrived and departed Ben-Gurion Airport, including 1,267 tons in passenger aircraft.

    Meanwhile, KAN reported that El Al executives will meet later this week to discuss the Finance Ministry’s revised plan to bail out the struggling airliner.

    According to the revised proposal received by El Al management on Sunday, the government is willing to offer a $250 million loan to the Israeli flag carrier.

    In addition, El Al will issue shares worth $150m., backed by a government guarantee to purchase shares that are left unsold, an agreement which could ultimately turn the state into the majority shareholder of the company.

    The plan, which is conditional upon severe cost-cutting measures and layoffs expected to affect one-third of the airline’s workforce, represents a significant shift in strategy following months of unsuccessful negotiations between El Al and the Finance Ministry for a $400m. government-backed loan to bail out the battered company.

    Commenting on the new proposal, former El Al CEO Amos Shapira expressed his view that airline management may have no choice but to accept the new offer, even if it means that the “next crisis is only a matter of time.”

    “If you take this company and make it even smaller, you reduce its ability to compete even more,” Shapira told Army Radio, emphasizing that El Al’s pre-crisis woes were primarily caused by the difficulty in competing with international aviation giants including Lufthansa.

    “These are not efficiency measures, this is clipping El Al’s wings,” Shapira said.

    Even if El Al executives approve the Finance Ministry’s new rescue plan and associated cuts, the deal will also require approval by the government, the Knesset’s Finance Committee and, most problematically, the El Al workers union.

    Late on Sunday, the airline said it would extend its halt on all scheduled flights to and from Israel until June 30, with the exception of cargo flights and one-off services. Some 6,000 of the carrier’s 6,500 staff are also on unpaid leave until the same date.

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