El Al to Resume All Eilat Flights, Following Three-day Hiatus Over Security Concerns

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El Al will resume its day flights to Eilat on Thursday after a three-day hiatus. The company's planes will fly on its regular route for two more weeks.

Civil Aviation Authority director Giora Rom said he permitted El Al to continue flying on the regular route to Eilat for two more weeks until the airline completes its organization for the authority's new flight procedures.

"We did so only due to concern for El Al passengers who have purchased tickets," Rom said.

El Al suspended its day flights from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Eilat on Monday this week, following a safety problem generated by the new security needs in the area, the airline said. El Al was concerned that the changes would not be safe for its fleet of Boeing 737s, the planes used for the day flights to Eilat.

The company's two night flights – one by Israir in a smaller plane – were unaffected.

El Al has two scheduled flights to Eilat on Boeing 737 aircraft. Customers whose flights were cancelled were reimbursed and offered free bus rides from Ben-Gurion airport and Eilat.

An El Al spokesman said the company had requested to extend the time period to fly on its old route a week ago, but received the authorization for this only now.

He said that contrary to the Civil Aviation's statement, El Al does not need the time to get organized but to examine whether the new route enables a safe flight on the airline's jet planes.

Yigal Cohen, union leader of the rival Arkia airline, yesterday wrote a protest letter to Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, who had authorized El Al's line from Ben-Gurion to Eilat.

"You, I and many others know that El Al's main reason for stopping the flights is that they're not lucrative," Cohen wrote.

"In February 2010 hundreds of Arkia workers protested and demonstrated outside your office against your inexplicable insistence on opening the domestic line to Eilat to El Al," Cohen wrote.

"Your people boasted that it will reduce the flight price by hundreds of shekels due to the competition and bring tens of thousands of tourists to EilatAll that turned out to be deception, one big lie," he wrote.

"We said the prices won't go down and the move will only harm Arkia and its workersRegrettably you weren't prepared to listen then, and today it turns out I was right," he wrote.

El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi dismissed these arguments yesterday. "This is definitely not true. The whole debate is about flight security, which is my main concern...I closed the line to Sao Paulo without a blink [the line was closed due to unprofitability]," he said.

Shkedi said he believes in the line to Eilat. "I fought to increase the number of El Al's daily flights to Eilat from three to four. I demand to remove the restrictions on the number of seats to Eilat," he said, referring to the Civil Aviation Authority's directives.

Shkedi said Israir operates one flight for El Al because of the airline's shortage of planes. Once El Al receives three more Boeing 737 planes beginning in October, it will have no problem operating all the flights to Eilat with its own planes in the spring and autumn, he said.

Eilat. El Al was given permission to resume its old flight route from Ben-Gurion airport to Eilat for another two weeks. Credit: AP

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