By Steven Scheer
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's El Al Airlines said on Wednesday it was boosting cargo capacity to meet high demand for shipments of equipment to Israeli soldiers and families impacted by the war with Hamas.
Israel's flag carrier, which has a fleet of 46 aircraft split between long and short haul, removed seats from one of its six Boeing 777-200 planes to add up to 50 tonnes of cargo per flight.
It also added a Boeing 737 that was recently converted to cargo to its fleet and, with cargo capacity of 20 tonnes, will make two flights a day to various European destinations.
It chose 222 as its flight number since it has a numerical value of Israel's slogan of "together we will win."
El Al chief executive Dina Ben Tal Ganancia said the airline flew about a quarter of a million passengers to and from Israel in the first two weeks of the conflict that began on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched an attack from Gaza on the south of the country. Israel has since bombarded Gaza with the goal of eliminating the militant group.
"With the decrease in demand for passenger flights, the need to fly cargo has increased," Ben Tal Ganancia said, noting that until now El Al has relied on cargo capacity of passenger planes.
The airline, it said, has boosted cargo capacity on passenger aircraft and has flown more than 5,000 tonnes of cargo to Israel, including medical and vital equipment - some of which was donated by various organisations and Jewish communities around the world.
El Al said special flights were operated to fly equipment that included first aid kits, additional medical supplies, as well as cargo that included thermal clothing for soldiers and equipment purchased for the families near Gaza.
As part of its increase in cargo flights, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner flew on Tuesday to Mumbai - the first time in four years an El Al plane landed in India.
El Al is among very few airlines flying to Israel since most carriers have halted flights to Tel Aviv.
(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)