Rollout of Netanyahu's New ‘Air Force One’ Delayed Yet Again

After more than four years, 730 million shekels and eight test flights, Netanyahu's VIP-configured Boeing 767 is still not serviceable

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'Wing of Zion,' Israel's new 'Air Force One' pushed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
'Wing of Zion,' Israel's new 'Air Force One,' a project initiated by Prime Minister Netanyahu.Credit: Alon Ron
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

The Israeli delegation that went to Morocco on Tuesday following outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of a normalization deal flew on an El Al jet chartered by the prime minister’s office, rather than on the expensive aircraft remodeled to serve Israeli heads of state.

Four and a half years have passed since the Boeing 767 landed at Ben-Gurion Airport and was sent to be worked on at Israel Aerospace Industries, yet the aircraft dubbed “The Wings of Zion” is still not ready. El Al enjoys the fruits of the backlog as senior officials at Israir complain about the bias against them, including changes in requirements on the part of the prime minister’s office in the midst of the bidding process.

In October and November the aircraft intended to be used by heads of state made eight test flights before being handed over to the Israeli Air Force, as “operational.” Air force pilots have meanwhile been sent to do expensive simulation flights in Europe, and two of them have even begun to train on the aircraft with the pilots involved in the simulations at the IAI.

>> A tour of Netanyahu's controversial, grounded 'Air Force One'

CLICK on the animation: Everything you need to know about Netanyahu's controversial ‘Air Force One’

A date had already been planned for the handover of the aircraft at the Nevatim Air Base, where a special parking spot was established, by a unit that has been in effect unemployed for nearly two years. But the ceremony was cancelled without explanation. Recently it turned out that the deadline for completion of the project has again been postponed. The aircraft has to carry out further tests based on findings from previous flights and at the same time, regulatory arrangements have not yet been completed by the IAI, IAF and Defense Ministry triad.

When the aircraft arrived in Israel in July 2016 it was said that the adaptation work was expected to take about a year. It turns out that the plane will be handed over to the IAF sometime in 2021, if all is well

Meanwhile, there is the rolling fiasco of the infinite number of mishaps and failures this year. Last month Nir Dvori reported on News 12 that floods at the Nevatim base led to a collapse of the entrance to the aircraft’s hangar and that renovations will be required at a cost of half a million dollars.

This is of course small change compared to the bottomless pit of an incomprehensible budget that this project has enjoyed at taxpayer expense. The Goldberg Commission, which decided in 2014 to give in to pressure from Netanyahu, approved the project in a final report that set a maximum 150 million shekel cost for it to be financially viable. In the meantime the reported costs have mushroomed to 730 million shekels.

In February 2019, the state comptroller announced a comprehensive examination of the project. The examination has taken longer than expected and its findings are currently supposed to be published in February. All that remains it to see what will come first: the aircraft or the report.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response that “the project is continuing to progress according to plan.”

The Defense Ministry said “the aircraft for heads of state is in the process of licensing expected to be completed during January 2021. The work in the hangar and the air strip will be completed in the coming days. The work is being done by the chief contractor, the IAI, as part of its responsibility before the handover.”

Israel Aerospace Industries said: “The IAI does not address business issues regarding its clients.”

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