Advocates continue to beat the drum for a local direct flight to Tel Aviv, hoping a survey recently posted on Facebook will show airlines how much demand there is.
The idea of a direct flight out of the Washington-Baltimore region has been discussed for years, but local Jewish groups are trying to step up their lobbying efforts. Earlier this month, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Israeli American Council launched an online survey asking participants to detail how a direct flight from the Washington-Baltimore region to Tel Aviv would benefit them.
“We think anecdotally, just from the volume of traffic from friends and neighbors and colleagues, that there is enough demand,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the JCRC of Greater Washington. “But the airlines need quantifiable evidence to determine that it’s a profitable route.”
A 2003 study by the Berman Jewish Databank put the number of Jews in Greater Washington at about 215,000. A 2010 survey estimated that there are 93,400 Jews in the Baltimore area.
Halber said thousands of people travel between the area and Tel Aviv each year for government, business and leisure. Right now, the only direct flights from the United States to Tel Aviv originate in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Newark and San Francisco. In 2016, American Airlines discontinued its direct route from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv.
In addition, Maryland governors customarily send one trade mission each term to Israel, according to Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. The council has advocated for a flight out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
“It’s an issue we hear about all the time,” Libit said. “To start with, every time there’s a state trade mission and it has to start with a bus ride to Newark, that’s a good reminder of where it would be wonderful if we were able to attract a nonstop flight.”
The groups advocating direct flights are targeting United Airlines and the Israeli airline El Al. El Al ran a feeder flight from BWI to New York in the 1990s, the benefit being that the trip could be purchased on a single ticket.
Jennifer Raskas, director of the JCRC’s Israel Action Center, said the organization worked with United and El Al to design the survey. The Maryland/Israel Development Center, Virginia Israel Advisory Board and Maryland-Israel Sister State Committee also sponsored the survey. It asks about such things as how many times a year the person flies to Israel and preferred departure windows.
“There’s been a coalescing in economic, government and private interests to make this happen,” Raskas said.
Barry Bogage, executive director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes trade between the state and Israel, said that Maryland would see even further investment from Israelis with a direct route.
“It’ll help put us on the map for Israeli companies to locate here,” Bogage said. “Currently you’ve got to fly through Europe or New York.”
The lobbying organizations lobbying for the flight also hope that direct travel will strengthen ties between Virginia and Israel. Bogage said there are 30 Israeli companies operating in Virginia. In 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) also went on a trade mission to Israel.
Halber said that previous attempts to bring a direct flight to the area got bogged down in jurisdictional rivalries between local advocacy groups. The most important thing, Halber said, is for the region to show the demand. The JCRC is hoping to get 20,000 potential travelers to take the survey, thinking that should be enough to convince an airline.
“If we need 20,000 and only 5,000 fill out the survey, there’s not going to be a direct flight,” Halber said.
Political Reporter Dan Schere contributed to this report.