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  • Steve Jaffe

The Kangaroo Route on a Single Hop. El Al to test non-stop flights between Tel Aviv and Melbourne

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

In a surprise move, El Al announced during its third quarter earnings call on November 26th that it would conduct test flights between Tel Aviv and Melbourne in the second quarter of 2020. The non-stop flights would take up to 18 hours and provide the first schedule direct service between Israel and Australia.

Due to the enduring ban on El Al flying over most Arab states, it is presumed that the track would follow the same route – down the Red Sea and then east over the Gulf of Aden, as its current service to Bombay and Bangkok. Flight time to Melbourne would be 16:45, and 17:45 on the return.

TLV-MEL flight track
Assumed appoximate routing on TLV-MEL flights

Why the test flights? Why not just announce the route and go for it? It’s not really a technical issue – the route – estimated at 7,885 nm, is only 56 nm longer than Qantas’ Perth-London flight (7,829 nm) -- also operating with a 787-9. Rather – the issue is whether passengers will support the service. Will they be willing to sit on an airplane for that long? And will they pay the premium to cover the additional cost – namely the cost of carrying all that fuel and the extra crews required – that such ultra-long haul flights incur. Unlike standard “route proving” flights in which airlines conduct test flights for training and technical reasons, El Al intends to offer these initial flights on a commercial basis testing passenger willingness to buy tickets at the published fares.

In an interview with the Israeli business publication Globes, El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin explained: "It will be the passengers who decide whether they're happy to fly eighteen hours and pay the cost. That is what will determine whether we continue. It's an expensive flight from an operational point of view. If the consumer sees added value in it and agrees to pay the premium, which I don't believe will be excessively high, and particularly if he or she agrees to sit on a flight for eighteen hours, we'll be able to decide whether to operate the route."

The potential route follows the current trend toward ultra-long haul routes in which airlines can offer an advantage over the competition by enabling passengers to avoid the extra time and inconvenience of an intermediary stopover. Qantas is testing that strategy. A year into their successful Perth – London service, the company is looking to close the business case on its Project Sunrise, in which the airline would introduce non-stop service from the Australian east coast to New York and London – both of which would surpass the current record-holder for longest commercial flight – Singapore Airline’s Newark – Singapore flight at 8,285 nm.

With intense competition on European routes, and the recent entry of several East Asian airlines into Israel, El Al is looking for strategic opportunities to give it a leg up on the current -- and future potential competitors -- like Qantas. The test flights are aimed to determine whether passengers will come along for the ride.

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