Residents of the north who work in the center of the country have reason to celebrate. After Arkia announced that it would discontinue flights from Tel Aviv to the northern town of Rosh Pina at the end of January, the transport ministry announced last week it would offer a tender for bids to operate scheduled flights from Tel Aviv to Kiryat Shmona and Rosh Pina.
Minister of Transportation Meir Sheetrit stated that the company to win the bid will be required to operate at least at least one daily flight to each destination; one in the morning and one in the afternoon, in each direction.
The tender is open to Israeli airlines with either a commercial or operating license, and whose aircrafts have at least 10 seats. The successful company will have to start service to the north within six weeks from the day it wins the bid.
The Ministry of Transportation also relayed that the conditions of the tender place emphasis on the cost of tickets and passenger service.
Arkia stopped flying to the Kiryat Shmona airport at the end of 2003 when passenger demand dropped dramatically. In 2003 Arkia only 19,000 passengers traveled the Tel Aviv- Kiryat Shmona route, in contrast to 57,000 in 2000.
Today, the “Tamir Flight Service” operates three daily flights from Tel Aviv to Kiryat Shmona.
Not economically viable
About a month ago Arkia announced it would also stop flights to Rosh Pina due to lack of economic viability. Shlomo Chanel, CEO of Arkia, said the company could no longer bear the economic burden involved in operating the route, given the low number of passengers and high operating costs.
Following the announcement senior Arkia representatives met with transport ministry officials and agreed to continue service to Rosh Pina until the end of January. Arkia currently operates 3 daily flights from Tel Aviv's Sde Dov airport to Rosh Pina. In 2005 the company transported just 40,000 passengers on the Tel Aviv-Rosh Pina route, in contrast to 120,000 in 2001.
All that's left now for residents of the North is to hope there will be bidders.