El Al Flights Canceled as Older Pilots Fight Wage Cuts

Pilots disrupt air travel at the weekend by calling in sick, over dispute about pay for those aged 65 and older.

El Al planes parked at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv.
David Bachar

Several El Al flights were canceled on Sunday and on Saturday after pilots called in sick and others declined to replace them, and the company has appealed to a labor court to order the pilots to resume work immediately.

The pilots are fighting to preserve the salaries of their colleagues aged 65 and older.

El Al’s share fell by more than one percent to 233.60 by late Sunday afternoon.

El Al’s management said that some of the pilots called in sick and replacements could not be found. As a result, flights to and from London, Madrid and Warsaw were canceled. 

The Israel Airports Authority workers union said that if El Al did not manage to end the crisis within 24 hours, it would stop supplying the airline with ground services.

The IAA union said that while it did not intend to intervene in the El Al labor dispute, it would not continue to subject its employees to travelers’ wrath.

El Al is trying to find alternative flights for passengers via foreign airlines. It has committed in the past to not employing leased airlines.

As a result of the labor conflict, age 65-plus instructors charged with testing pilots via simulators have stopped working. Since every pilot is obligated to pass such a test twice a year, some 23 of El Al’s 600 pilots have been unable to renew their licenses.

New pilots and pilots who are scheduled to fly Boeing 787s are also not getting certified, and the lack of personnel is likely to lead to more cancellations.

In 2014, El Al and the Israel Aviation Authority adopted international standards blocking pilots from flying international commercial flights past age 65. However, in Israel they are eligible for pension starting at age 67. An accompanying cut in pay was delayed until a hearing by the National Labor Court. The court stated the sides need to come to an agreement, which they have not done.

El Al has offered pilots aged 65-67 teaching and ground jobs, but at lesser pay and with less overtime. It has offered those who are not working as instructors gross salaries of 17,000 shekels a month - the most that ground crew members can earn.

Those who are working as instructors have been offered 33,000-43,000 shekels a month before taxes. The head of the pilots union is demanding 55,000-60,000 shekels a month.

Many have been earning 60,000 to 70,000 shekels a month.