Israir Likely to Stop Shabbat Flights, Lay Off Dozens of Workers, CEO Says

Such a step would put a second Israeli airline already hard-hit by the pandemic at a competitive disadvantage of not flying on days of religious observances

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An Israir jet.
An Israir jet.Credit: Moni Shaffir

Israeli airline Israir will likely stop flying on Shabbat under its new ownership, the company said in a 2020 summary sent by the firm’s chief executive officer to employees.

“In 2021, too, Israir will need to reduce its workforce by 15%,“ CEO Uri Sirkis said. The change will mean that Israir will have to lay off 60 workers, after having reduced its workforce in 2020 by 15%.

The company, which operates regular flights from Israel to a handful of destinations in Cyprus, Greece, eastern Europe, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, has 400 employees.

Sirkis said the third coronavirus lockdown forced the company to put more workers on unpaid leave. As of the beginning of January, 55% of workers were on leave through May.

“I’m aware of the difficulty in extending the period of unpaid leave, but I believe I need to be transparent in order to enable you and your families to prepare and make a living during this challenging period. I hope I’ll be wrong and we’ll need to bring workers back earlier than hoped,” he wrote.

Alongside the steep drop in operations, the painful layoffs and the drastic restrictions at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Sirkis said there’s optimism about a potential spike in operations around the Passover holiday. Israel has already passed 1.3 million people vaccinated with the first dose of the vaccine, alongside hundreds of thousands of people who have recovered from the coronavirus and presumably have antibodies.

Israir CEO Uri Sirkis.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Sirkis said he was also optimistic due to Israir’s fast-paced product development and its increased operating efficiency

The upbeat outlook also stems from the finalization of Israir’s 162-million-shekel sale to a group led by supermarket mogul Rami Levy and businessman Shalom Haim over the weekend.

Sirkis addressed the advantages and the disadvantages of being bought by the retail powerhouse, noting that Levy’s team brings proven success in acquisitions and a strong financial backbone, which will cut the company’s expenses, and an acquisition structure that would increase Israir’s share capital.

He also hinted at the main disadvantage of the sale, which will mean that Israir will have to stop flying on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Such flights have given Israir a competitive edge against the religious observances of Israel’s flag bearing carrier, El Al.

Sirkis said that in 2020, Israir managed to get through a 75% drop in its tourism operations and a 30-35% drop in airplanes’ operating hours, as well as a 40% dip in flights to Eilat due to the closure of the Sde Dov airport in north Tel Aviv.

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