Israel Air Force One? State Considering Official Plane

Israeli officials might in the near future travel abroad in their very own full-sized passenger plane.

The Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Ministry are looking into buying a plane, the Israeli equivalent of Air Force One, to serve Israeli leaders on their official trips around the world.

A similar examination of the economic feasibility of a special aircraft was conducted during Ehud Olmert's tenure as prime minister, but the plan was buried - partly because of fears of public criticism of such a large and possibly extravagant expense. However, the findings showed that the expenditure would pay for itself within five years.

The proposal is not to buy a small executive jet, but rather a full-sized passenger plane, most likely from Airbus or Boeing, with about 150 seats. The plane would serve not only the prime minister but also the president and other senior officials. A refurbished, rather than brand-new aircraft is a possibility.

For example, Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to the United States today on a Boeing 757-200. One of these could be snapped up, used, for around $10 million.

New planes with similar capacity, such as a Boeing 737-700 or 737-880 with 130 to 140 seats, or an Airbus A320 with 160 to 170 seats, cost around $43 to 45 million new.

In the past Israeli leaders used an Israel Air Force Boeing 707 for such trips, but in recent years they have leased planes, each time publishing a tender via a government company, Inbal. In many cases it is not the lowest bid that wins, whether for security reasons or because the bid was not inappropriate. This has drawn a lot of media and public criticism.

For example, in his last trip to the U.S., in September for the U.N. General Assembly and a meeting with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu and his entourage spent $1.3 million on the flight, even though there were much cheaper bids.

This time Netanyahu and his staff have taken notice, and they are spending only $450,000 on a smaller plane from Arkia, even though the flight will require a stop on the way. El Al's bid came in at $1.4 million.

The Prime Minister's Office said the matter had been looked into in the past, and referred the matter to the treasury. The Finance Ministry said the matter was under examination and no decision had been yet.

Flying off to the GA today

On today's flight Netanyahu and the 50 people in his entourage will be flying to the U.S. for the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Arkia specially fitted the 757-300 with a double-sized, first-class seat for the prime minister, which folds out flat into a bed. The plane will make a 40-minute refueling stop in Europe - and not a six-hour delay as previously reported.

All passengers will enjoy first-class food served on china, and an open bar.