El Al Pilots Stand With Company in “Fateful Hour”

El Al Airlines planes are seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion on Tuesday. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

El Al management and its pilots union have had their share of fights in recent years, but on Wednesday the men in the cockpits pledged their cooperation as Israel’s flagship carrier struggled for survival in the coronavirus crisis.

Earlier in the day, the airline announced its latest painful cutback — forced vacation with no pay for 550 of El Al’s 650 pilots — as cancellations decimated international flight routes and bringing the company to the brink of bankruptcy.

The airline’s pilots union said in a statement Wednesday it would cooperate with the emergency economizing measures. The union proposed that of the 650 pilots working for the airline, the 60 hired most recently would be laid off, another 420 would go on immediate leave without pay, and just 120 would remain on the payroll, and those who stayed would accept a 20 percent pay cut, according to The Times of Israel

“The pilots’ proposal is meant to help the company in this fateful hour,” union chief Ran Elkabatz said.

“El Al’s existence and survival over the long term is dear to the pilots, the vast majority of whom served in the Air Force and still do a day a week [of reserve duty] for their country. For the first time, these pilots now expect the country to help us, with a loan to bridge this difficult period until the company is once again economically strong and growing.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a NIS 10 billion ($2.8 billion) package to stabilize the economy amid damage caused by the coronavirus crisis and to “allow the economy to continue to function.”

But he stressed that the airlines, and not only El Al, are receiving special attention: “I want to differentiate — aviation is a separate industry. Aviation as aviation is a separate industry. We give individual and separate treatment to the airlines. It is important to understand this. It is a lifeline. It is important to us.”

In its latest report to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Wednesday, El Al said it was preparing to cancel most flights in the wake of the new restrictions. It now expects losses of between $140 million and $160 million for the period January through April 2020, double the expected losses in its report to the exchange two weeks ago.

El Al management was set to meet later on Wednesday to finalize the company’s efforts to survive the emergency.

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