El Al to Begin Direct Flights for Olim from Russia and Latvia

El Al is planning to begin direct flights to Israel for emigres from Russia and Latvia on Dec. 1, airline President Rafi Harlev announced here Wednesday.

He said an agreement on weekly flights from Riga and St. Petersburg — formerly Leningrad–is expected within a matter of days.

“The Soviet Foreign Ministry has decided not to be against aliyah,” said Harlev, who was just in Moscow.

He made the announcement at a news conference called here Wednesday morning to introduce Leon Hasdai, El Al’s new general manager for North and Central America. Hasdai replaces David Shein, who becomes an El Al vice president.

The El Al agreement, which the airline has been negotiating for years with the Soviet government, comes on the heels of the inauguration of direct flights for olim from Moscow by a new airline, Aerolicht. The airline is a joint venture of Aeroflot, the Soviet national carrier, and an Israeli businessman, arms dealer Ya’acov Nimrodi.

Aerolicht’s initial attempt to fly immigrants to Israel failed after Turkey refused permission to overfly its airspace.

“The problem was there was no security over Turkey,” said Harlev. That complication has now been rectified, he said.

Another positive bit of information announced was El Al’s profit for 1991, which will at year’s end be somewhere between $27 million and $32 million, Harlev projected.

The windfall follows on a year that began, to say the least, disappointingly. In January and February, preceding and during the Persian Gulf War, tourism to Israel was virtually nonexistent.

Travel picked up after the war, however, and lately, El Al planes have been flying completely full, said Sheryl Stein, the airline’s spokeswoman here.

El Al has introduced packages that will make Israeli travel more attractive. As of Nov. 12 and good until Dec. 15, El Al will provide a round-trip ticket from New York for $833 for a stay of up to 21 days. The deal will also be in effect from Dec. 25 to March 15.

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