El Al pilots refuse to fly Netanyahu for state visit to Rome

The refusal prompted the prime minister’s office to issue a tender to competing Israeli airlines.

By World Israel News Staff

Pilots from Israel’s national El Al airline refused to fly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, out to Rome for an official visit in apparent protest over the plans for judicial reform, prompting the prime minister’s office to issue a tender to competing airlines.

None of the pilots or flight attendant crew had volunteered to staff the plane ahead of a 2 p.m. deadline for the tender, El Al said.

Later in the evening, the airline company announced that it had found a crew to fly the first couple out to Italy.

“The issue of manning the prime minister’s flight is yet to be resolved due to a shortage of qualified pilots in our Boeing 777 squadron, among other reasons,” a statement by the airline said after the deadline expired.

“We are working to man this flight…in accordance with company procedures, as we have done countless times before,” El Al wrote. “Since its establishment, El Al has flown heads of state for important national missions and will continue to do so in the future, as it is required.”

Transportation Minister Miri Regev announced she would open tenders to other Israeli airlines including Arkia and Israir, Hebrew-language media reported.

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Netanyahu is slated to meet with his Italian counterpart, Giorgia Meloni.

Also this week, 37 out of the 40 reserve pilots in an Air Force fighter jet squadron announced they were boycotting a pre-scheduled training session this coming Wednesday in protest of the government’s judicial reform.

Opposition member and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who himself has accused Netanyahu of carrying out a “coup” and called for mass protests over the reform, begged the reservists to show up for duty, saying they should show up “no matter what.”

Earlier this month, Zeev Raz, a former Israel Air Force fighter pilot and leader of the protest movement against the reform, called for the assassination Netanyahu.