Spot Cancellations of El Al Flights Continue, With Thursday Flight to Boston the Latest

The airline said the cancellation of 5 flights over the past week was the result of 'operational considerations' but some observers think it could be part of a power play between management and the pilots over a new labor agreement

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El Al's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft
The first of Israel's El Al Airlines' order of 16 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, August 23, 2017. Credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Behind-the-scenes labor tensions between the management of El Al Israel Airlines and its pilots have worsened recently over their failure to reach agreement in mediation efforts that they are engaged in over wage and work conditions.

The two sides are publicly maintaining restraint, but TheMarker has obtained correspondence between the two sides that reveals that they are not near agreement despite ongoing mediation efforts.

Five El Al flights to the United States and the Far East have been cancelled over roughly the past week, most recently including an early morning flight from Tel Aviv to Boston that had been due to depart early Thursday. This was the third Boston flight cancellation in a week and followed cancelled flights to Beijing and Hong Kong. The airline said all of the cancellations were the result of "operational" considerations, but observers have suggested that the growing number of cancellations could be a power play in the negotiations.

For its part, pilots' workers' committee said there were pilots available for Thursday's Boston flight. "El Al pilots are working to the limits of the law and [our] labor agreement to meet the busy summer flight schedule and to serve the traveling public," it added.

­­­El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin chose to write to the pilots directly last week, noting that the arbitration process has been ongoing since September. An  agreement with the pilots should result in an efficient flight schedule and also accommodate new Flight Time Limitation rules, Usishkin wrote. The rules, which take effect in five months, will limit the number of hours that pilots can fly, which the El Al CEO said would increase their quality of life, although he acknowledged that they would also limit the overtime pay that pilots could earn. Nevertheless, he claimed that his proposal would increase the gross pay that most pilots would be earning as well as other benefits.

"I know and understand that your expectations were different, and that your hope had been for a higher salary than I have offered," he wrote. "I stand behind my offer and think it is proper and fair, certainly in the reality in which we find ourselves and [with] the challenges before us."

In response the pilots' workers' committee said it objected to the proposal and suggested one of its own. A letter obtained by TheMarker from committee chairman Ran Elkabetz claimed that "the hourly salary of El Al pilots is the lowest among pilots in the State of Israel and among the lowest in the Western world, and the time has come to change this fact by settling labor relations and [in] full cooperation."

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