Arkia Airlines Staff Threaten to Disrupt Service Over Leased Planes and Crews

At this point, the threat appears to be mostly rhetoric, but sources say it could result in disruptions to the carrier’s service to and from Eilat

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File photo: An Arkia airplane on the tarmac.
File photo: An Arkia airplane on the tarmac.Credit: Courtesy
Gili Melnitcki
Gili Melnitcki

After declaring a labor dispute in May, the staff of Arkia Israel Airlines are threatening to disrupt the carrier’s flight schedule.

At this point, the threat appears to be mostly rhetoric, but sources say it could result in disruptions to the carrier’s service to and from Eilat.

Arkia management issued a statement saying that flights are operating normally and that the carrier is confident the airline’s staff would not disrupt service during the current tourist season. The airline offers domestic service linking Eilat and Tel Aviv’s two airports as well as a service between Haifa and Eilat. It also flies to a number of destinations in Europe as well as to points in Africa and Asia.

The threat to disrupt the airline’s operations followed a meeting on Monday attended by airline management and representatives of the pilots and Arkia employees union that ended without agreement. The initial dispute in May centered around wage issues that have been resolved but airline staff are also making an issue of the airline’s aircraft leasing practices.

Arkia leases aircraft from foreign airlines that result in a loss of work hours for its staff, but Arkia also provides its own aircraft and crew to El Al Israel Airlines and Israir, which provide additional working hours to crew on those flights. The Histadrut labor federation’s transportation workers’ division demanded that Arkia come to an agreement on the issue by this past Sunday, but no agreement was reached by Monday’s meeting.

Arkia sources said that over the past two years, the number of Arkia flights involving leased aircraft has increased six-fold, from 80 in 2015 to more than 500 already completed or scheduled flights this year. Because the matter remains unresolved, Arkia pilots are threatening to refuse to fly aircraft on flights in which Arkia is the lessor – providing the aircraft to another airline. That in turn could eat into Arkia’s revenues and theoretically also disrupt service at the other airline. The other Israeli airlines have said, however, that the Arkia labor dispute would not significantly disrupt their service.

The major growth in aircraft leasing as part of Arkia’s operations is the result of the jump in the number of Israelis traveling abroad and of the growing competition in the commercial aviation sector in the country. In the first half of this year, Arkia flew 206,000 passengers, a 12% increase over the period last year.

Arkia is the dominant carrier on domestic service to and from Eilat and many of its pilots fly the route. For safety reasons, the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority only allows smaller aircraft to land at Eilat’s small city airport. To meet the demand in turn on its international routes, the airline has been leasing aircraft and crews from foreign carriers. This has deprived Arkia pilots of the salaries that they would earn from flying the airline’s longer flight hours on the carrier’s international routes.

The pilots are seeking to come to an agreement on the mix of flights that they fly. They also claim that the service and safety offered on the leased aircraft by foreign crews is inferior to what Arkia provides.

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