El Al suspends all commercial flights

Company says it will continue to work with foreign and defense ministries to repatriate Israelis stranded abroad

An El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Flash90)
An El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Flash90)

El Al airlines will suspend all commercial flights starting Thursday night until April 4. In a statement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange Thursday, the company said it would continue to operate flights to repatriate Israeli citizens stranded overseas in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry, as well as cargo flights.

El Al said it would send further employees on unpaid leave in addition to the 5,500 workers it has already put on unpaid leave since the outbreak of the coronavirus, which kicked off government-imposed travel bans and guidelines requiring all Israelis returning from any country to go into self-quarantine for 14 days.

The company added that it was in talks with the Finance Ministry regarding a financial aid package and that it had submitted a proposed cost-cutting plan in line with the state’s conditions for receiving such aid.

El Al said it was waiting on a response from the Finance Ministry and that the state’s support was critical in the short term to assist the company in overcoming the implications of the coronavirus. The company is reportedly asking for as much as $300 million in loans.

In a letter to employees on Wednesday, CEO Gonen Usishkin said it was incumbent on the state to decide whether or not it wants a national airline.

“Our situation worsens with each passing day, We’re approaching the point at which the state must decide whether it wants a national airline, or whether it believes that aviation security is not an important and substantial element in national security.”

El Al has carried out a number of flights repatriating Israelis from around the world. Earlier this week an El Al flight landed in Australia for the first time, bringing some 250 Israelis back home from Perth. Some 100 Australians returned home on the outbound flight.

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