If 2020 had not become the year from hell for airlines everywhere, El Al would now be counting down the days to its trials of flights to Australia. The Israeli airline announced late last year that it was keen to start regular services to Melbourne. It was widely seen as a clever and bold move. Initially, El Al was due to run a few test flights over April and May to gauge the public’s reaction.
Test flights delayed by pandemic
With a substantial Jewish diaspora in Melbourne and no direct flights between Australia and Israel, these flights have the potential to do well. Until there are nonstop flights between Australia and Europe, Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv would also have made for a handy transit port when traveling between the two continents.
Plus, El Al was planning to operate its shiny new 787-9 aircraft on the route. So the flights were ticking quite a few boxes; decent point-to-point traffic, transit traffic, and modern aircraft. But no-one forecast the pandemic of 2020. Barring repatriation flights and cargo flights, all El Al services are suspended until 2 May.
The result is that the test flights are not going ahead in the foreseeable future. It also raises a question about whether the crippling financial impact of this crisis will see El Al, like airlines everywhere, scale back its planned future strategies.
Simple Flying has approached El Al to explore its current plans concerning Melbourne. The airline didn’t get back to us before publication.
El Al still flying repatriation and cargo flights
Despite El Al having suspended its flights, El Al has been conducting repatriation flights and has recently made two appearances in Australia.
Ten days ago, El Al made a very rare appearance at Perth. A Boeing 787-9 operated the 14 hour plus flight. What also made this flight extra interesting was El Al operated it as a commercial flight. All 230 seats sold out in 15 minutes.
El Al finally made it to Melbourne last week – just not as originally planned
Then, just a few days ago, El Al finally made it to Melbourne. Perhaps not as envisaged last year, but it was a Dreamliner – so at least something stuck to plan! This time the flight was 17 plus hours. Two hundred and eighty passengers walked on board in Melbourne to head home. The flight was free for passengers with existing El Al tickets. For everyone else, the price for the flight home was USD$2,480.
It’s a fair distance between Melbourne and Tel Aviv. As the crow flies, it is about 13,700 kilometers. According to Flight Aware, El Al’s 787-9, 4X-EDK, flew just over 14,700 kilometers. The flight flew in a reasonably direct northwesterly direction, crossing the African continent midway along the Somalian coast, turning into a more northerly direction near the Ethiopian border, flying to the top of the Red Sea before turning towards Ben Gurion.
It was reportedly quite the effort involving eight pilots and 11 flight attendants. In terms of distance, it set a new record for El Al. And while it’s not what El Al planned when it announced their series of Melbourne test flights last year, this flight a few days ago proves that it can be done.
Perhaps next year, when the pandemic dust is settled and airlines are getting back to business, we might see El Al in Melbourne again.