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5 Mar, 2023 19:45

Israel can’t find pilots for Netanyahu – media

Widespread protests over proposed reforms mean El Al cannot staff the prime minister's flight to Rome
Israel can’t find pilots for Netanyahu – media

Israel’s government has reportedly looked to find another airline to fly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Rome after the country’s national air carrier, El Al, was unable to find any pilots or flight attendants to staff this week’s state visit to Italy.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev intends to open up bidding to other airlines, such as Arkia and Israir, after El Al missed a 2pm Sunday deadline to confirm Thursday’s flight, according to Israeli media outlets. The national carrier couldn’t find any pilots or cabin crew to volunteer for the mission amid massive protests in the country over the ruling coalition’s proposed judicial reforms, the Jerusalem Post said.

El Al blamed the staffing issue on a shortage of pilots who are qualified to fly a Boeing 777, the aircraft requested by the prime minister, “among other reasons.” 

Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to Rome on Thursday, where he will meet with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, before returning to Israel on Saturday. Meloni was quick to congratulate Netanyahu when he won a majority in Israel’s election last November, returning to power as PM after an 18-month absence. He reportedly plans to follow up his Italy trip with a visit to Germany next week.

All but three of the 40 reserve pilots in the Israeli Air Force’s 69th fighter squadron announced on Sunday that they won’t attend a scheduled training session on Wednesday, in protest against the proposed judicial reforms.

While protests have dragged on all year, Netanyahu said on Sunday that the organizers are a “dangerous group” that wants to “burn down the house and create chaos in the country.”

El Al, which is dependent on loans and financing guarantees from the government, could face punitive measures over its failure to staff Netanyahu’s trip, Regev told public broadcaster Kan. The airline said later on Sunday that it “proudly carries the Israeli flag” and will handle Netanyahu’s flight as scheduled, but the Jerusalem Post claimed it still hadn’t found a co-pilot or cabin crew.