Israel's El Al is eyeing Shanghai and Tokyo as possible new additions to its network, as part of an eastern push which will also see the carrier increasing frequencies on existing routes to Eastern Europe and the Far East.

El Al chief executive Haim Romano says Eastern Europe and the Far East are "key markets" for the carrier, adding that both Shanghai and Tokyo are "very interesting" destinations.

"Eastern Europe is in a momentum of growth, especially Moscow," says Romano. "We are looking at Latin America as well but we are not sure about that market." El Al does not currently operate any non-stop flights to Latin America.

The USA remains the Tel Aviv-based carrier's "most important" market, a market which was last year encroached upon by Israeli charter carrier Israir Airlines when it was granted permission by Israel's ministry of tourism to operate scheduled flights between Tel Aviv and New York JFK for a period of two years.

El Al, which was previously the only scheduled carrier to operate non-stop service in this market, subsequently filed a petition with Israel's High Court of Justice against the government's ­decision. But despite El Al's ­opposition to the move, Romano says Israir's scheduled JFK service "has not affected us in a significant way".

El Al also faces new competition from UK carriers, following a relaxation of the UK-Israel bilateral agreement earlier this year. Bmi and Thomsonfly have both unveiled plans to serve Israel. "Our main competition is from foreign carriers," admits Romano, although he adds that El Al is "not afraid" of competing.

Source: Airline Business