TEL AVIV (Oct. 8)
A new Soviet-Israeli airline, which got off to a sputtering start when it began direct Moscow-Tel Aviv flights last week, landed its first substantial load of olim Monday at Ben-Gurion Airport and is promising to deliver huge numbers in the future.
But first, Aerolicht, the new carrier established jointly by Israeli businessman Ya’acov Nimrodi and the Soviet state airline, Aeroflot, must win a contract with the Jewish Agency for Israel. Nimrodi and his local agent, Menahem Laufer, were scheduled to begin negotiations with Jewish Agency officials Tuesday.
The Jewish Agency pays the transportation costs of all immigration to Israel, regardless of route. Aerolicht wants it to pick up the tab for its direct service and to encourage immigrants to use it. The Jewish Agency objects to the monopoly status Nimrodi demands for Aerolicht, which it cannot guarantee.
Aeroflot and the Israeli state airline, El Al, are expected to eventually reach agreement on a joint service between Soviet cities and Israel. It has been held up because of differences over market share and security measures.
Moreover, the newly independent Soviet republics are expected to establish their own airlines, which may want to participate in the direct immigration market.
Finally, the Jewish Agency is skeptical of the new service. While its Monday flight safely landed 145 olim from Kishinev, in Moldavia, theirs was an unceremonious arrival, with no VIPs on hand to greet them.
The Jewish Agency and Absorption Ministry claimed they had not been informed in advance of the flight, although they read “predictions” about it in the press.
In addition, the so-called “Aerolicht fiasco” last week made a bad impression. The company’s inaugural flight on Oct. 2 was supposed to bring in 300 to 400 olim. But it never arrived, because Turkey refused the new airline permission to cross its air space.
Jewish Agency and Foreign Ministry officials accused Aerolicht of lack of coordination with the Israeli authorities. A second direct flight on Oct. 3 carried only eight passengers.
But Nimrodi, who so far has financed the service out-of-pocket, promises great achievements if he gets a contract. Aerolicht will operate daily direct flights between several Soviet cities and Tel Aviv, carrying as many as 300,000 immigrants over the next two years, he said.