Charter airlines have slashed capacity to Israel as the country's tourist industry has been badly affected by continuing unrest in the region.

The Israeli civil aviation authority says the number of passengers carried by overseas charter airlines operating in the Israeli market fell over 30% in March and April, compared to a year ago. Traffic tumbled 46% last month. Foreign scheduled airline traffic was down 20% in March/April, and 16% in May. 2001's traffic was also affected by the unrest, with last year's March/April foreign charter traffic down 15 % on the 2000 figures.

The authority says the unprecedented fall in tourist traffic means fewer foreign charter airlines will operate into Israel this summer, and those that do will cut frequencies.

Meanwhile, private airline Israir is seeking to overturn a transport ministry ruling preventing it from operating charter flights between Tel Aviv and New York. Only El Al and Continental Airlines operate non-stop flights between the cities. Israir says the ruling contravenes the air service agreement with the USA.

The government allowed Israir's wet-lease of a Boeing 747 for the route, but has refused permission to launch services to avoid competition with El Al. The flag carrier had reacted angrily to the wet-lease approval, saying it should not be allowed due to the collapse in traffic.

Source: Flight International