El Al Warns of Collapse in Weeks

YERUSHALAYIM -
el al
A tourist waits for a flight back to South Korea at Ben Gurion airport in Israel, Monday. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

El Al Airlines warned on Wednesday that it faces imminent financial collapse due to disruption of international air travel in the coronavirus crisis, and said the government must step in to save the national carrier.

“It’s a catastrophe,” an El Al official told the Kan public broadcaster. “The airlines here will collapse within weeks. El Al, even before the Health Ministry announcement [advising against non-essential travel abroad], sustained damage of 200 million shekels from the coronavirus.”

“If the state doesn’t wake up there won’t be an airline here in a matter of weeks,” the official said.

Last week, El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin warned that “there are difficult days ahead and it is possible that we will be required to take dramatic steps and make painful decisions,” though he did not elaborate, in an email message to employees quoted by Globes.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich pledged to help. “I think the state will need to put its hand into its pocket, as they do in other national crises, including natural disasters,” Smotrich told Kan Reshet Bet.

Without government support, he said, the country is likely to find itself without airlines “within a number of months.”

Smotrich said he contacted Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon about compensation for Israeli airlines, and that he intended to bring the matter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well. A Smotrich spokesperson told Globes that El Al is not the only airline under discussion.

However, there was no sign during the intervening days of an assistance program from the government, even as the crisis has continued to worsen.