ORLANDO, Fla. - New nonstop flights between Israel's second largest city and Orlando International Airport could be an untapped market for the Central Florida economy, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials said Tuesday as they celebrated the inaugural service.
Officials said they hope the El Al flights to Tel Aviv are successful enough to become permanent if Israelis visit the theme park capital of the world or for work on the Space Coast especially after a SpaceX rocket launched an Israeli moon lander this year.
Otherwise, the seasonal weekly flights on Boeing 777s are scheduled to end Aug. 20.
Central Floridans might also take advantage now that Israel "is really just a plane flight away," DeSantis said who spoke briefly at the airport in front of elected officials, members representing the local Jewish community and others.
"It'll be good for both sides," said DeSantis who in May went on a trade trip to Israel with a delegation of close to 100 of the state's legislative policymakers, business leaders, lobbyists and others.
Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort will definitely be an appeal and draw more international tourists on the new flights, the governor said.
"The one that Israelis will probably pass on is the Holy Land theme park," DeSantis quipped. "I think they got that covered where they're coming from."
International travelers make up an important part of Florida and Orlando's tourism market. More than 14 million foreign tourists visited the state last year, according to Visit Florida, the state-funded tourism agency.
"That's a big deal," said Dana Young, Visit Florida's leader. "Our message to the global travelers is, if think you've seen Florida, if you think you know Florida, we've got more to show you because we have such a diverse experience."
The new weekly flights are first time OIA, the state's busiest airport, has had a nonstop flight to Israel.
"This day, at Orlando International, is one we've been waiting for for a long time," said Phil Brown, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority CEO.
Miami International Airport offers the only other nonstop flight to Israel in Florida, to Jerusalem. The service began about two years ago.
Tel Aviv, a city of more about 435,000 people on the country's Mediterranean coast, is a major business hub known for technology and Israel's only public stock exchange.
Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com