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Israel carriers may soon fly to Turkiye under new aviation deal

A plane at Istanbul Airport on 2 February 2022 [İsa Terli/Anadolu Agency]
A plane at Istanbul Airport on 2 February 2022 [İsa Terli/Anadolu Agency]

Israel and Turkiye on Thursday signed a new bilateral civil aviation agreement, their first since 1951, as part of a recent warming of diplomatic ties, allowing Israeli carriers to resume flights to Turkiye after a 15-year absence, Reuters reports.

"The agreement is expected to result in the resumption of flights by Israeli companies to a variety of destinations in Turkiye, alongside flights by Turkish companies to Israel," Israel's Transportation Ministry said in a statement.

It said that the deal stemmed from "constructive negotiations in recent weeks and constitutes an important milestone in advancing bilateral relations."

Earlier this week, Israel said it would reopen its economic and trade office in Turkiye, after both governments expelled ambassadors in 2018, while often trading barbs over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel and Turkiye are now looking to restore representation to ambassador level.

Israeli carriers have not flown commercially to Turkiye since 2007, while Turkish carriers flew as much as 16 flights a day to Israel, pre-COVID.

READ: Turkiye, Israel begin efforts to take diplomatic missions to ambassadors level

Flag carrier, El Al Israel Airlines, had long complained to government officials that this was discriminatory towards Israeli airlines.

"This is very good news," said an El Al spokesperson. "We have an intention to fly commercial flights to Istanbul."

He added that El Al unit, Sun D'or, will likely fly to leisure destinations popular with Israelis, such as Antalya.

Lower fare airlines such as Turkish Airways have cut into El Al's business, with most passengers using Istanbul as a hub to connect to North America and Europe.

Turkish Airways is the third largest airline operating in Israel, with a 7 per cent market share at Ben-Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, over the first half of 2022, according to the Israel Airports Authority. El Al's share has slipped to 22 per cent, from 29 per cent a year ago.

Turkiye's Pegasus is 6th, with a 4 per cent market share.

A spokesperson for smaller Israeli carrier, Israir, said there was no news yet on flights to Turkiye. Rival, Arkia, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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