Netanyahu's Flight to the UN Cost $1.3m

How much did it cost to fly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his entourage to New York for his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly? $1.3 million.

The price tag is almost twice that offered by the next most expensive airline bidding in the tender for the trip.

Netanyahu flew on a special El Al flight on Monday to meet U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as to attend UN meetings and other events.

Civil service regulations require a tender for such special overseas flights for the prime minister and other ministers. In this case the tender asked for bids for a flight for 82 people.

El Al's was the highest bid out of at least four, some of which were for less than half of the winning bid.

The Prime Minister's Office chose the most expensive bid, which included a nonstop flight on a Boeing 767. The plane normally seats 250, over three times the size of the delegation accompanying Netanyahu.

The price works out to $15,854 per passenger round trip. This compares to average commercial fares of about $1,000 for a regular Tel Aviv-New York ticket. All told, for the same $1.3 million, 1,300 people could have flown on commercial flights, about five full 767 jets.

In the past there were cases where the prime minister or the president flew abroad with a very limited entourage on a commercial flight of an Israeli airline, for example Ariel Sharon and Moshe Katsav both did so.

In addition to El Al, a number of aviation firms specializing in private travel offered bids.

One of the bids was for $750,000, which offered an Airbus plane with 20 first class seats and 62 business class seats. But the plane would have had to make a refueling stop in Europe on the way to New York.

Another bid came in at only $250,000, but this offered a flight for only 44 passengers.

Turbo-Jet Aviation, which specializes in private flights and is owned by Saymi Zeiderman's Turbo Tourism and Aviation, also submitted a bid. The firm also represents Korean Air and Air China in Israel.

Orange Aviation, owned by Zvi Ehrlich, also bid on the flight.

The Prime Minister's Office responded saying, "Since it was decided to do away with the prime minister's special plane and fly on planes belonging to commercial airlines, all Israeli prime ministers have been required to fly on only Israeli airline companies for security reasons."

"Netanyahu has repeatedly asked security officials to allow him to fly on state business on non-Israeli airlines to lower costs, but has been told the matter is impossible for security reasons," said the Prime Minister's Office.

"The cost of the present flight on an El Al Boeing 767 is less than $1.3 million. Previous governments also conducted similar flights on a Boeing 767. The price of the current flight to the UN General Assembly was influenced by the flight occurring during the holiday period, and because the time of the flight had to be moved up on short notice, because of the invitation issued during Rosh Hashanah by the U.S. administration for the prime minister's meeting with President Obama and the head of the Palestinian Authority.

"It should be emphasized that the prime minister's clear instructions to the professional and security bodies is to reduce all costs of the prime minister's overseas delegations."

El Al said, "The company does not comment on its business affairs in the media."