What was supposed to be El Al’s first commercial flight Thursday following months of suspended services due to the coronavirus pandemic got no further than the runway after a fault was discovered with one of the plane’s engines.
Hundreds of passengers sat on the plane for three hours as technicians tried to solve the problem but were eventually returned to the terminal and later flown to their destination on another plane, according to Hebrew media reports.
LY541 was scheduled to take off at 10 a.m. from Ben Gurion International Airport heading for Athens. It was the first commercial flight after a pause of some three months and was to herald a gradual restart of services announced by Israel’s national carrier last month.
Moments before takeoff the captain said a problem had been found with one of the engines of the Dreamliner jet and it remained on the ground. The plane, which can carry some 280 passengers, was reportedly full.
One of the passengers, identified only as Erez, complained to the Ynet news site that the passengers had been forced to remain on the plane at a time when so much emphasis is being placed on social distancing due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Specifically now, when we are trying to keep a distance, it would have been better to take everyone back to the terminal and that we wait [there] under conditions of social distancing,” he said in a phone call to the website.
A replacement plane finally took off at 2:40 p.m.
Last month El Al announced that it would restart flights to some European destinations, beginning with Athens at the beginning of October. Scheduled flights to New York, London and Paris were to begin October 12 as part of a gradual return to operations, El Al said in a statement.
El Al’s subsidiary Sun D’Or International Airlines will also begin to offer charter flights to a number of destinations in Greece and Croatia, via selected tourism operators in Israel, the statement said.
The already troubled airline struggled to cope with the massive downturn in international travel wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. While some international travel has resumed, Israel still largely bars the entry of foreigners and quarantine requirements upon return have made flying abroad unpalatable for many Israelis.
The airline announced in July that it was suspending all flight operations, after having already drastically scaled back services in March. The lone flight it has operated since was a symbolic trip to the United Arab Emirates carrying Israeli and US delegations to celebrate the establishment of open ties between the countries.