Detained Israir Plane Released by Portuguese Authorities

Israeli airline resolves dispute with EuroAtlantic, after Portuguese carrier backs down.

Avi Scharf

An Israir Airlines plane that was unexpectedly denied the right on Tuesday to take off from the airport of the Portuguese capital Lisbon over a long-standing legal dispute has been released and returned to regular service. Several hours after the detained Israir plane returned to Israel, it was already put into service on a commercial flight to Greece.

The plane, an Airbus A-320, returned to Ben-Gurion International Airport early Wednesday morning, TheMarker has learned, but was not carrying any commercial passengers. Sixty-five of the 154 passengers who had been stranded in Lisbon due to the dispute flew to Israel on another airline. The remaining 89 were returned to Israel on a special Arkia Airlines flight that Israir arranged for the purpose on an aircraft that was originally due to return to Israel empty.

The aircraft’s release in Lisbon followed an agreement between Israir and EuroAtlantic Airways, a Portuguese carrier, to settle a disputed debt that EuroAtlantic claimed Israir owed relating to Israir’s use of a EuroAtlantic aircraft for fights to New York.

After the Israir plane was detained, the airline’s CEO, Uri Sirkis, flew to the Portuguese capital, where he and the chairman of EuroAtlantic, Tomas Metello, announced late Tuesday evening that they had settled their dispute, which began in 2007 and was said to involve a monetary claim pending in a Portuguese court for about $2 million.

In a statement that didn’t specify the exact amount that it would pay, Israir said it had settled the claim in return for EuroAtlantic’s withdrawal of its request for the plane’s detention. The parties also announced that they would collaborate on tourism and hotel activities in the future.

The settlement followed overtures from the Israeli embassy in Lisbon, the Portuguese embassy in Tel Aviv, the Portuguese honorary consul in Israel and others to EuroAtlantic seeking to resolve the matter, but initially the Portuguese carrier refused to back down.