Airport chief says Israel’s aviation industry on brink of collapse

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Photo by Flash90A board showing a number of cancelled flights at the Ben Gurion International Airport on March 11, 2020.
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(I24) Israel’s aviation industry is on the brink of collapse after months of inactivity due to the coronavirus epidemic, CEO of the country’s largest airport Shmuel Zakay lamented on social media Friday.

Ben Gurion Airport is just “days away from reaching the point of no return,” Zakay warned in his Facebook post, adding that the competency of aviation professionals, from pilots to ground crews, may have eroded to dangerous levels.

“Bringing them back to efficient and safe flights will take months,” he said.

Acknowledging that health restrictions were necessary to battle the spread of the “dangerous and lethal pandemic,” Zakay still accused the government of “stagnation” and lacking a coherent strategy that could help the private and public sectors manage the risks of the disease.

“This week civilian flights resumed in the world even in countries whose illness levels are high,” he stated. “We can operate safe civilian aviation even under the shadow of coronavirus.”

Zakay added that revamping the aviation sector was a “strategic” imperative that could prevent “fatal harm to an industry comprised of tens of thousands of people and hundreds of professions.”

Earlier this week, Israel’s national airline EL AL announced that it has canceled all its flights – both passenger and cargo – due to the massive loss of revenue and ongoing labor disputes.

The economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic has hit airlines across the globe particularly hard. A company statement released Tuesday highlighted that EL AL has hemorrhaged $140 million in the first quarter of 2020.

In addition, negotiations between representatives of Israel’s pilot union and EL AL ended without resolution, contributing to the airline being shuttered.

El Al has sought a $400 million government bailout as it negotiates a repayment scheme. Reports suggest EL AL could receive the entire sum as a loan mostly backed by a state guarantee.

A second option includes a state-guaranteed loan of $250 million and an equity offering of $150 million, also with state backing.

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