Staff Shortage Forces El Al to Recall Former Pilots and Flight Attendants

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An El Al plane. (Illustration)Credit: El Al via Bloomberg

Short of manpower as Passover approached, El Al Israel Airlines has called back former air crew and pressed into service flight attendants who have not yet finished training.

Passover season sees increased passenger traffic at Ben-Gurion Airport, with El Al the most popular airline. The company, however, wound up offering more flights than it had pilots and flight attendants to staff.

“Flight attendants are collapsing under the load and training is suffering,” said a source close to the company. “It isn’t clear how management plans to resolve the manpower shortage ahead of the summer. The main casualty is the passenger.”

Other airline sources said the rehiring of former air crew to fill in during shortfalls is the norm in the industry. El Al said all its flight crews are fit and trained for the job based on all the rules, and all permits are in place.

El Al aspires to fly 530,000 people in April to maintain its market share of the 1.6 million people expected to pass through Ben-Gurion that month. To achieve this, the carrier, which was privatized in 2003, had to add six or seven flights daily beyond what it offered in April 2016 just to maintain market share, not augment it.

One solution was to revert to leasing planes that come complete with crew. Some flights by El Al subsidiary Sun D’Or are using planes leased from foreign companies, including a jet from Riga-based SmartLynx Airlines. Monday flights to Barcelona and from Barcelona and Tbilisi to Tel Aviv are using leased jets.

El Al is also tapping former staff that it did not give tenure. According to one aviation observer, the airline knew perfectly well it would have staffing shortages as passenger traffic grew but fired people anyway. “It’s irresponsible,” the source said.

As for the partially trained staff, flight attendants who for example have not undergone night training yet are being used on short flights. Pilots who have not trained for New York but have for Europe are flying only to Europe.

Last week the aviation authorities said traffic at Ben-Gurion this year was up 17% from a year ago. In March, international traffic was up 19% from the same month a year ago. Israeli airlines operated 36% of the flights at Ben-Gurion, an increase of almost 14% from the same period last year.

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