File photo of an EL AL Boeing 777 aircraft at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Thousands of people flying to and from Israel for a weekend getaway could face canceled vacations due to a lack of funding for airport security.
In an impassioned letter to the Foreign Ministry, outgoing El Al CEO David Maimon warned that the national airline would have to cancel hundreds of flights because the number of security guards hasn’t kept up with the dramatic growth in passengers transiting through Ben-Gurion Airport.
“Due to the limitations, El Al’s security division will not be able to provide aviation security services for all expected flights of Israeli airlines, and accordingly, cannot grant approval to airlines for the summer 2018 schedule, which begins in March,” Maimon wrote in the letter on Thursday.
“Israeli airlines report that in light of the current situation, they intend to cancel flights for which they say it’s too late to begin marketing and advertising now... [El Al security] will be forced to notify Israeli airlines of hundreds of flights that won’t be able to take off.”
Some flights to Cyprus scheduled for this summer have already been canceled by another Israeli airline, Israir, Noam Pinko, an aviation industry analyst with Psagot Investment House, told The Jerusalem Post.
Likewise, El Al’s charter subsidiary, Sun D’Or, reportedly announced last week that it was canceling its summer flights to the Spanish island of Ibiza and to the French island of Corsica.
The budgetary squeeze comes on the heels of a dramatic 16.3% growth over the past year in the number of passengers flying to and from Ben-Gurion.
El Al and the other two Israeli airlines, Israir and Arkia, need around 200 more security personnel to be stationed overseas. Already, some 950 Israelis work as security guards for the airlines out of the country.
Due to the many more flights being offered by Israeli airlines, the Foreign Ministry has reportedly trained people to work in airport screening. But the ministry has not been allocated the requisite funds to place the guards.
“The Foreign Ministry doesn’t act,” said Pinko. “The two other Israeli airlines, Arkia and Israir, widened their routes in the past year. They’re [each] becoming a real airline, not just an airline to Eilat. All these trends cause the need for much more security.”
In response, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry told the Post that they were trying to “find a solution.”
“The National Security Council is currently holding a series of meetings with various government ministries and El Al security in order to resolve the issue of airline employees and their employment,” the Foreign Ministry said.
El Al manages security personnel arrangements for Israir and Arkia. (El Al is also in the process of trying to acquire low-cost Israir from the IDB Tourism group, although the merger is under scrutiny from anti-trust regulators.) If it takes one to three months to install the security guards abroad, that will force El Al to cancel flights due to the required time for marketing and planning the routes.
“It’s more likely than not that the flights won’t be canceled,” Pinko said, citing public pressure from El Al, Arkia and Israir, and the travel industry.
Yet the prospect of canceled flights can’t help the flagging financial prospects of Israel’s flag carrier.
In recent years, El Al has been steadily losing market share at Ben Gurion, partially due to the “Open Skies” agreement, which opened up greater competition from European and international carriers. And for the first time ever, El Al may not achieve annual 30% local market share, jeopardizing the reduced fees it gets from the Aviation Authority.
Maimon, who worked at El Al for 12 years, four as CEO, is ending his time at the airline on February 15. His successor is Gonen Usishkin.