Business group pushes for BWI-Israel flights

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American Airlines discontinued its nonstop service from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv in January after six years, citing financial concerns. Jewish community and business leaders in Baltimore and Washington, who previously used the flight, have called for direct service from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
American Airlines discontinued its nonstop service from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv in January after six years, citing financial concerns. Jewish community and business leaders in Baltimore and Washington, who previously used the flight, have called for direct service from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Advocates of nonstop flights between Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport have been trying in the past two months to convince key decision makers that is in the region’s interest.

Abba David Poliakoff, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council and a member of the Maryland Israel Development Center, has had a round of meetings with Maryland Secretary of Commerce Mike Gill; John Hammond, budget officer for Ann Arundel County, where the airport is located; and BWI officials. He said the meetings have been positive and they have been open to exploring the option of adding a flight.


Until January, many area travelers to Israel used American Airlines’ nonstop service from Philadelphia. Once that route was canceled in January, the only remaining nonstop flights from the East Coast have been from the New York area or Boston.

Proponents like Poliakoff point to signs of a potential demand for a Baltimore-Washington route: some 350,000 Jewish residents, business people with Israel connections, politicians and diplomats.

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However that demand has yet to be tested.

In May, the MIDC, a group of more than 30 U.S. and Israeli companies that do business in the two countries, sent a survey to its members, asking if they would have use for such a flight. Poliakoff declined a request to release the results of the survey.


To help make the case for adding the flight, Poliakoff has contracted with aviation consultant Addison Schonland of AirInsight, an airline consulting firm.

For an airline to be interested in flying a particular route, it must sell 65 percent of seats on each flight, Schonland said in an interview.

“The question is, can we find a way to utilize that potential more effectively than was done in Philly,” he said. “It’s a very long process. It requires an inordinate amount of patience.”

Schonland said one possible impediment to a direct flight to Israel is Southwest Airlines. BWI is a hub for Southwest, which offers a largely domestic service. Schonland thinks the airline will not be interested in the Tel Aviv route for financial reasons — which led American to end its service from Philadelphia.

“The way that this might evolve is that one of the airlines that flies between here and Europe could continue [to Israel] beyond a European hub,” Schonland said.

Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for BWI, said that airport officials are open to consideration of international flights.

Robert Mann, president of the airline consulting firm RW Mann & Company, said the number of international flights in a region generally depends on economic factors. He noted that El Al, the Israeli airline, has been particularly aggressive in establishing new flights to U.S. cities due to the amount of increased business the United States is doing with Israel, particularly in the technology sector.

“I think El Al comes at this from the standpoint that they often have to initiate to get new service established,” Mann said.

He advised those advocating for a direct flight to consider foreign airlines in their plans.

“They shouldn’t put all of their eggs in the U.S. carrier basket,” he said.

There have been efforts to establish a flight from Dulles International Airport to Tel Aviv, but nothing materialized, said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

“I would think that this region, whether Dulles or Baltimore, could sustain a flight,” he said. “We’ve got significant people here that go to Israel for holidays. We have members of Congress and other national figures that go. And it would be good for economic development.”

MIDC member Steve Dubin agreed that a Tel Aviv flight could help economic development locally. Dubin, who chairs the board of the nutrition company SDA Ventures, travels to Israel five times a year, making the 2 ½-hour trip to Newark and back to do it.

He said companies often decide where to locate based on a metropolitan area’s resources, noting that one Israeli environment company had a U.S. subsidiary in South Carolina, but moved it recently to Baltimore to be closer to other Israeli companies. An air link is yet another reason for a company to locate somewhere, he said.

MIDC member Rob Frier said he, too, thinks a direct flight could provide an economic incentive for companies to move to Maryland.

“It cuts down on costs, it cuts down on time and that’s important too, so it would be great,” he said.

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1 COMMENT

  1. El Al attempted one-stop out of BWI via JFK service a number of years ago but there wasn’t enough demand…unfortunately…because of the absence of peace there are almost no connecting flights from Ben-Gurion to other mideast points…a requirement to capture high yield business traffic.

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