El Al launches airline alliance

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After being shunned by the three major global alliances, Israeli airline El Al is starting its own group of carriers.

The new alliance will be called WE — derived from the first initials of Western-Eastern, to capture the scope El Al hopes the group will have.

Reports say El Al already has letters of intent to join the alliance from Russia's UTAir, Ukraine's AeroSvit and Armenian carrier Armavia, and intends to have final agreements within about three months.

El Al plans to sign up 20 airlines by the end of 2011.

El Al has had trouble joining alliances because of its ultra-stringent security measures and its policy of not flying on the Jewish Sabbath.

Plus, El Al doesn't fly to most Muslim countries, so it cannot offer a Middle Eastern route network to an alliance.

El Al has been looking for alliance membership to broaden its global reach. The airline has expressed interest in serving Japan, India and South America.

Thwarted in its attempts to join the Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star alliances, the airline has also explored codeshare agreements to raise its worldwide profile, but has run into roadblocks because of Israeli antitrust laws.

After developing an Eastern Europe alliance network, WE hopes to expand next to other European destinations and then South America.

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