El Al CEO Warns of Mass Flight Cancellations Due to Security-staff Shortage

David Maimon appeals to Foreign Ministry to find funding as summer season approaches

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File photo: Israeli security staff in front of an El Al counter at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
File photo: Israeli security staff in front of an El Al counter at Ben-Gurion International Airport.Credit: REUTERS

Hundreds of flights by Israel’s three airlines could be cancelled this summer because there aren’t enough security personnel to ensure their safety, El Al Airlines’ outgoing CEO, David Maimon, warned over the weekend.

He sounded the warning in a letter to Yuval Rotem, the director general of the Foreign Ministry, which is responsible for covering the cost of some 950 people responsible for security overseas for El Al as well as Arkia and Israir.

The crisis has been simmering for weeks because the Foreign Ministry doesn’t have the budget for enough personnel, especially as the 2013 Open Skies aviation reform has caused overseas travel by Israelis to soar.

Maimon, who is stepping down as CEO of El Al on February 15, said that not only was there no budget to add 200 more staff but that contracts for existing workers were not being renewed.

El Al CEO David Maimon.Credit: Sivan Farag

“ I call upon you to address this deep crisis urgently and approve the hiring of new employees who have completed their professional training and are waiting to be assigned,” said Maimon, whose airline is responsible for providing security for its two smaller rivals with government funding.

“El Al’s security unit will be forced to announce which flights will be provided with security, given the [limited] staffing we have available for the summer season — which means we will be forced to notify Israeli airlines of hundreds of flights they will not be able to proceed with,” he said, warning that some destinations may not be available at all.

The Foreign Ministry responded that it was seeking a solution in coordination with other ministries, but it offered no specifics.

In the last two weeks Israir and Issta announced they were cancelling plans for three weekly flights from Haifa Airport to Paphos in Cyprus this summer while El Al’s Sun d’Or unit said it was pulling planned weekly service to the Spanish island of Ibiza and to Corsica.

Although the summer season is still several months away, the carriers can’t begin marketing routes without guarantees that they can fly them. If they wait until security arrangements are in place, many potential travelers will have booked flights with other airlines.

Meanwhile, Arkia said on Sunday it would begin offering twice-weekly direct flights to Bangkok during July and August, breaking a long-standing monopoly El Al enjoyed on a popular destination. Last year, some 2000,000 flyers used the route, according to Israel Airports Authority figures.

Arkia will fly a Boeing 767-300 jet specially leased for the route, with flights leaving Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday and Fridays.

A comparison of airfares done by TheMarker shows Arkia will be charging less than El Al, Israel’s flagship carrier. For instance, a round-trip ticket leaving August 7 for a two-week holiday costs $910 on Arkia and $1,420 on El Al.

This will be the third monopoly El Al has lost in the last two years. In 2016, Hainan Airlines began a Beijing-Tel Aviv route and has since added on Shangahi. Last year Cathay Pacific began flying Hong Kong to Tel Aviv in competition with El Al.