Swiss Offered PM Half Price

The Prime Minister's Office indeed solicited bids from foreign airlines to fly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his entourage to the United States, counter to the office's claim last week that they had to use an Israeli airline for security reasons.

Netanyahu ultimately flew El Al to the U.S., where he attended a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and addressed the United Nations general assembly.

TheMarker has learned that the Prime Minister's Office solicited offers from the American airline Continental and from Swiss International Air Lines. The body soliciting the offers was Inbal, a government travel agency, which issued a tender that private aviation companies such as Orange Aviation and Global Jet Solution also answered.

As TheMarker reported on Friday, El Al won the tender to fly Netanyahu et al despite the $1.3 million price tag it set, which was almost double the offer from other airlines. TheMarker has now learned that Swiss offered the cheapest price: just $800,000. Continental never made a specific offer, as it didn't have a jet available for the special flight. However, Continental executives estimated that the cost should not exceed $900,000.

Last week the Prime Minister's Office stated that from the time the perk of the prime ministerial executive jet was abolished, forcing prime ministers to take commercial airlines, they have always flown via Israeli carriers for security reasons.

"Time and again Netanyahu has asked the security elements to allow him to fly via non-Israeli aviation companies on state missions, in order to reduce costs, but has been told that it is not possible for security reasons," the Prime Minister's Office stated. This time too, Netanyahu ordered staff members to do everything in their power to lower the flight costs, the bureau said.

Swiss's manager in Israel, Avner Gordon, said the company does not comment on commercial agreements. Continental's local manager, Avi Friedman, said the airline hadn't made an offer since it didn't have a plane it could keep available for five straight days, as requested.

The Prime Minister's Office repeated, on the eve of Yom Kippur, that the security establishment has a long-standing directive for prime ministers to fly exclusively on Israeli carriers, for security reasons. Ahead of this trip, Netanyahu had ordered his staff to look into costs at other airlines, in order to find alternatives or to improve the bargaining position vis-a-vis El Al. That is why Inbal was ordered to find cheaper alternatives, but ultimately, the security forces rejected them, leaving only El Al in the air.