The Prime Minister’s Office has ordered work frozen on the aircraft meant to serve Israeli heads of state, Haaretz's Uri Misgav has reported in a blog post for Haaretz's Hebrew edition.
Israel Aerospace Industries has received instructions that the plane is not to be seen in flight at this time, therefore the requisite test flights before the plane is handed over to the Israel Air Force for operational use cannot be made, Misgav writes.
The decision bears the risk of laying waste to a project that has so far seen the state allocate 793 million shekels ($232.9 million). The last brief test flight was made in February. The explanation for the directive is clear: The Prime Minister’s Office is worried that the cost of flying the aircraft in this sensitive and stormy economic period would spark waves of protest and criticism. Beyond this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife are in any event unable to travel abroad at this time due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, the winds have changed and there seems to be no hurry to complete the project.
The plane undergoing conversion for the prime minister’s use arrived in the country four years ago last week, landing at Ben-Gurion airport from where it was transferred to an Israel Aerospace Industries facility. The decision to purchase the Boeing 767 has long been criticized by numerous experts as complete foolishness. Last month, Haaretz reported that the aircraft, which had previously been in service for the Australian airline Qantas, was 20 years old. The model is no longer in use by Boeing or El Al, and therefore its maintenance costs could only be expected to rise as the years go by. At the same time, pilots would need special training and a major investment would be required to maintain their flight readiness by means of a simulator, as they would not be flying a similar plane in any other framework, the blog post says.
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Misgav reported exclusively in the past that the Israel Air Force has established a special unit under a lieutenant colonel’s command to fly the plane for Israel’s heads of state.
The Prime Minister’s Office refused a request for comment.
The IAI also declined comment saying “we do not relate to our customers’ business affairs.”
A special hanger was built for the plane at the Nevatim Air Base. Members of the unit stopped working on the project a year and a half ago, as completion targets were repeatedly postponed amid criticism that the project was a huge waste of public funds. About two months ago, the air force had updated its target completion date for the project to late July, but was uncertain it would be met, a blog by this reporter said.