Lease of Aircraft for Netanyahu’s U.S. Trips Costing Up to $1.5m Each

Staff at the Prime Minister’s Office said the 777 had to be used this week because no smaller Boeing 767 aircraft was available.

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Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister Yuval Steinitz on a plane.Credit: GPO

The Boeing 777 that was leased to fly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington on Sunday for his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama cost the treasury $1.35 million, about 5.3 million shekels, a flight that followed a trip to New York last month for the UN General Assembly in which the leased plane cost about $1.5 million.

Staff at the Prime Minister’s Office said the 777 had to be used this week because no smaller Boeing 767 aircraft was available, but they added that the use of the larger plane did not increase the cost. About a year ago, when Netanyahu flew to the United States, the use of a leased plane cost $1.4 million.

Then as now, El Al Israel Airlines has been the successful bidder in providing an aircraft to the prime minister. Although technically, the bidding process on providing aircraft for Netanyahu’s trips to the United States includes Israel’s two other airlines, Arkia and Israir, El Al is the only carrier with planes large enough to make the trans-Atlantic crossing non-stop, as security procedures require, without a refueling stop in Europe.

Israel’s airlines will be losing the prime minister’s business in 2017, following a decision by the security cabinet to purchase a plane that will serve the prime minister and Israel’s president at a cost of about 400 million shekels, along with annual maintenance costs of about 30 million shekels.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response: “The prime minister’s flight procedures for diplomatic meetings abroad have not changed. As a result of directives from security officials, the prime minister flies abroad only with Israeli airlines. The contractual arrangements with the airlines are made by the government travel firm, which reports to the Finance Ministry.”

In connection with this week’s trip to Washington, the Prime Minister’s Office said the government travel firm was given information about the requirements for the trip based on standard procedure for flights between Tel Aviv to Washington. “The cost of the flight is $1.357 million,” Netanyahu’s office said, adding: “No special installations were made [on the plane] for the flight.”

In 2013, Netanyahu came in for criticism for the cost of a bedroom installed on a leased El Al plane that took the prime minister and his wife to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. The Prime Minister’s Office asked that the plane be fitted with a “resting chamber.” The bedroom had to be specially constructed for the five-hour flight and also required the use of a larger aircraft. At the time it was estimated that the additional cost came to $127,000.