Long-delayed ‘Israeli Air Force One’ set to finally become operational in November

Years in the making, ‘Wing of Zion’ plane expected to bring Israeli delegation to Dubai climate conference, after controversial jet was mothballed by Bennett last year

The 'Wing of Zion,' the Israeli version of Air Force One, is seen above Ben Gurion Airport, on its first test flight, November 3, 2019. (Yoav Weiss/Israel Aerospace Industries)
The 'Wing of Zion,' the Israeli version of Air Force One, is seen above Ben Gurion Airport, on its first test flight, November 3, 2019. (Yoav Weiss/Israel Aerospace Industries)

After years of delays and political squabbling, the “Wing of Zion” official state plane is likely to finally make its first operational flight in early November, a source in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on Monday.

The controversial plane’s inaugural flight is expected to bring Israel’s delegation to the United Nations annual climate conference in Dubai, which is slated to kick off on November 30.

The flight crew that will ultimately staff the Wing of Zion jet accompanied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Cyprus this week, in order to learn the delegation procedure for future flights.

The plane has been caught in political fighting in Israel for a number of years, with Netanyahu and his supporters arguing that it is a necessary safety measure, and detractors calling it a waste of taxpayer money and a symbol of corruption.

The plane, which was commissioned back in 2014, is a reconfigured and upgraded Boeing 767, which arrived in Israel in 2016 to undergo its conversion.

The undertaking, which was said to cost around NIS 750 million, was largely completed by 2019, when the plane — referred to locally as “Israel’s Air Force One” — completed its first test flight.

The official ‘Wing of Zion’ state airplane is seen at Ben Gurion Airport on October 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In December 2021, the plane finally received its “flight certificate,” clearing it for use by the country’s leaders. But then-prime minister Naftali Bennett never moved to bring the plane into operation. In the interim, prime ministers have continued to charter El Al planes for their overseas flights, while the president flies either a charter or commercial flight for his trips.

Bennett’s coalition partner, Yair Lapid, long campaigned against the plane, saying that “it represents everything that was corrupt and broken in the Netanyahu government.”

In May 2022 — while Bennett was in office — the Defense Ministry announced that it was placing the plane in storage at the Nevatim air force base in southern Israel, “until a decision is made about how it will be used in the future.”

But with Netanyahu’s return to power late last year, he brought the plane out of storage to undergo further test flights.

Following its extensive renovations, the 23-year-old plane now includes a private office for the prime minister, a bedroom with a bathroom and shower, a fully stocked kitchen, a meeting room and even a “war room.”

A State Comptroller’s Report issued last year criticized the high cost of operating the plane as well as the demand for a plane that could hold 100-120 people, despite the average flight by a prime minister containing only 61 people. However the state comptroller pointed out that the new plane is “a clear improvement over the previous situation… in the level of security, including defense of the plane and information security.”

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