El Al to Sue State Over U.S. Flight Safety Downgrade

El Al is considering suing the government for losses of tens of millions of shekels following the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's decision late last year to downgrade Israel's air safety level from 1 to 2, a ranking shared primarily by developing countries.

El Al CEO Haim Romano told members of the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday the downgrade had wide-ranging implications for the airline, such as preventing it from expanding the number of daily flights to the United States, reducing its competitive power against U.S. airlines expanding their own service to Israel, and general harm to El Al's image.

Romano accused the Transportation Ministry of transferring responsibility for the security failings to other authorities, calling it "unacceptable" that a body charged with supervising air safety would shirk responsibility when faced with shortcomings in that arena.

MK Ofer Akunis, chair of the Finance Committee, said in response, "The implications of the FAA's decision are grave, both to consumers and airlines, and lead to higher prices for airline tickets." Akunis also criticized the Transportation Ministry's handling of the downgrade, saying "more decisive action on the part of the ministry would have prevented the reduction of Israel's ranking at the outset."

The ministry's director general, Gideon Siterman, said his office was making efforts to return Israel to its previous ranking.

"Now there are additional steps that must be taken," he said, "but those depend on other government bodies and legislative action."