After years of courtship, Maryland officials have finally succeeded in wooing El Al Israel Airlines to Baltimore.
Airline representatives and state officials announced yesterday that the company will offer connecting service via North American Airlines from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to New York and on to Tel Aviv beginning June 22.
The twice-weekly flights will make it easier for Marylanders to travel to Israel by reducing layover times and could eventually pave the way for direct flights between Maryland and Israel, El Al officials said.
O. James Lighthizer, secretary of the state's Department of Transportation, said at a news conference yesterday that the state has been seriously courting El Al since 1988, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed a friendship agreement with Israel.
Leon Hasdai, vice present and general manager of El Al's operations in North and Central America, said the Baltimore service is part of an overall expansion of El Al's feeder system within the United States.
Baltimore will be the sixth city in the United States served by the Israeli airline.
The flights will depart each Monday and Wednesday. North American, which is partially owned by El Al, serves as an extension of the Israeli airline.
Mr. Hasdai said El Al had petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation for permission to serve BWI with El Al airplanes, but that request was rejected. El Al was given permission instead to offer connecting service from either BWI or Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.
El Al chose BWI partly because El Al believed passengers would be more likely to travel from Washington to BWI than from the Baltimore area to Dulles.
Mr. Hasdai said that after the feeder service begins El Al will ask the Department of Transportation to reconsider its request to allow El Al planes to fly directly to BWI.
Maryland officials, delighted with the additional carrier at BWI, aren't concerned about whose name is on the side of the airplane.
Theodore E. Mathison, BWI's administrator, said the flights could generate between $30 million and $40 million a year for the state's economy.
El Al said it did not know how many jobs would be created by the new service.
El Al is the 12th international carrier to offer service to BWI, where international passenger traffic has
become increasingly important. International traffic has increased 77 percent in the past two years while the number of domestic travelers has declined.
Mr. Hasdai said he expects about 300 passengers a week to travel from BWI to Israel initially and for that number to increase rapidly. He predicted El Al will be offering service four times a week from BWI within a year.
Although Baltimore has a sizable Jewish community and its leaders were active in lobbying for the El Al service to BWI, Mr. Hasdai said the airline would not have agreed to serve the area without indications that a sizable group of non-Jewish tourists will also travel to Israel.