El Al, Pilots Close to Deal After Talks Briefly Collapse

Pilots will get pay raise, airline will get efficiency measures, ending weeks of disrupted flights.

El Al planes parked at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv.
El Al planes parked at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv. Ariel Schalit/AP

After a brief breakdown in negotiations Monday afternoon, El Al Airlines and its pilots were in the final stretch of talks on a labor accord that will trade a pay raise for commitments by management to stop leasing jets with foreign crews, and for pilots to agree to efficiency measures.

Negotiations between CEO David Maimon and Histadrut labor federation Chairman Avi Nissenkorn, with the help of Eitan Cabel, chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, still hadn’t reached terms that were acceptable to all sides by late Monday night.

The employees say that the understandings reached on Sunday between them and the management were not included in the draft agreement presented to them on Monday. 

Shares of El Al, Israel’s flagship carrier, closed up 3.6% to 3.08 shekels (80 cents) on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and were the most actively traded shares of the day.

But sources said they were moving in the right direction to a contract that would put an end to weeks of flight disruptions as pilots and management pressured one another to make concessions.

The contract will award the airline’s 600 pilots a pay raise of 7.35%, effective with their November salaries – an increase that will add about 15 million shekels to El Al’s 210-million-shekel annual wage bill for pilots. In addition, the carrier said it would stop leasing jets, except during peak flying seasons at the end of August and the High Holy Days. The airline is also expected to offer job-security commitments to flight attendants and technicians.

El Al had been routinely leasing jets with foreign crews from the Spanish company Privilege Style and Portugal’s Hi Fly to replace flights that had been canceled either due to the pilots’ labor slowdown or by management to protest the sanctions.

Crucially, the pilots agreed to stop the practice of “split flights,” where they fly one way of a round-trip route and get paid to fly back as passengers in business class, a practice that cost El Al heavily.

Pilots also agreed to stop artificially delaying flight times to earn extra pay. For example, that had caused the average flight time between Israel and New York to increase to 12 hours and 20 minutes, from 11 hours and 30 minutes, costing the airline extra fuel and unnecessary wear on the engines.