el al plane 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
European countries have been refusing to allow planes carrying IDF supplies to refuel at their airports, according to the El Al Pilots Union.
Italy, Britain, Portugal, Spain and Germany refuse to allow El Al cargo planes transporting US military equipment to Israel to land and refuel, El Al Pilots Union chairman Itai Regev wrote in a letter sent Sunday to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
He said El Al's 747 cargo planes frequently carry crucial military supplies to Israel, but European policy forces the planes to carry barely half of their 90-ton capacity because of the inability to refuel en route.
Regev said the IAF did not have the operational capacity to conduct such supply flights on its own.
Two weeks ago, the government angered El Al by signing an agreement with Italy's Alitalia to be the preferred carrier for public servants flying abroad on official business.
"On the one hand, the European states treat us this way, and on the other hand, the government rewards them with contracts," Regev said, adding: "This causes real damage to national security."
The European countries' practice could delay crucial rearmament, Regev said. "[Finance Minister Avraham] Hirchson and Europe endanger Israel's security," he alleged.
Accountant General Yoram Zalika signed an agreement with Alitalia August 22 to give government workers discounts on work-related travel. In addition to discounted rates on tickets the government purchases for its workers from Alitalia, it will also receive free scheduling changes, special rates for overweight luggage and other services.
The deal with Alitalia was a blow to El Al, which was already feeling the heat from competition. Starting in April, the government allowed foreign carriers to increase their capacities on the Tel Aviv route, forcing El Al to issue a profit warning for the rest of the year.
Two weeks ago, El Al reported a loss of NIS 15.1 million for the second quarter, citing an "unprecedented" 29 percent rise in competition among its reasons for the poor performance.
"El Al pilots are the IAF's reserve backbone," Regev said, "and the Israeli government, as a recompense and sign of appreciation for their service as IAF pilots on the front lines, has transferred their bread-and-butter to Italian pilots, who at the first opportunity refuse to fly to Israel out of fear for their personal security."
During the recent war in Lebanon, Regev wrote in his letter, Alitalia planes bound for Israel landed in Cyprus.