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Piloting El Al simulator, four people with disabilities touch the sky

On ‘Good Deeds Day,’ residents of ADI, which provides residential and rehabilitative care, become first pilots in a wheelchair to fly an El Al Boeing 737 flight simulator

On Good Deeds Day on March 16, 2021, four ADI residents became the world’s first wheelchair users to train in an advanced flight simulator, each enjoying 60-minute flight instruction simulations with the guidance of an El Al pilot (Liat Mandel)
On Good Deeds Day on March 16, 2021, four ADI residents became the world’s first wheelchair users to train in an advanced flight simulator, each enjoying 60-minute flight instruction simulations with the guidance of an El Al pilot (Liat Mandel)

Air travel has been severely limited for a year now. But that didn’t stop four Israelis from taking to the skies.

All four are residents of ADI, a provider of residential and rehabilitative care for individuals with severe disability. Ranging from the late teens to late twenties, the residents have multiple disabilities, both cognitive and physical.

Last week on Tuesday, to mark “Good Deeds Day,” the four residents were pilots in an El Al Boeing 737 flight simulator. They made history by becoming what the organizers touted as the world’s first wheelchair users to train in an advanced simulator.

The initiative was a joint push by El Al’s Fly Card credit card and Frequent Flyer Club and ADI, formerly known as Aleh Jerusalem and Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran.

Guided by El Al Captain Eran Lichter, the four participants took off on a 60-minute flight simulation, experiencing the thrill felt by new pilots during their first training exercise. Upon touchdown, the happy “pilots for an hour” got their wings and a certificate of course completion.

Besides replacing the co-pilot’s seat with a wheelchair and having a ramp constructed to provide better access to the simulator, the flight experience itself was not altered in any way for the participants, said El Al Fly Card and Frequent Flyer Club CEO Lior Tanner.

“This simulator experience provides us with an opportunity to promote true equality and make the joy of flying accessible to all,” Tanner said.

Good Deeds Day was launched in Israel in 2007 by nonprofit Ruach Tova as an international day of volunteering.

Elie Klein, ADI’s director of development for the US and Canada, said ADI was approached by El Al — the two organizations have worked together in past partnerships — with the airline suggesting that a simulator experience would make for a memorable occasion for the participants.

Left to right: Major General (Res.) Doron Almog, Founder and Chairman of ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, EL AL’s VP of Operations Leehu Hacohen, EL AL Captain Eran Lichter, EL AL Captain Michael Peretz, ADI Jerusalem Director Shlomit Grayevsky and EL AL Fly Card and Frequent Flyer Club CEO Lior Tanner pose with the ADI residents after their flight aboard EL AL’s Boeing 737 flight simulator on Good Deeds Day, March 16, 2021 (Liat Mandel)

The four participants were chosen based on their age and their physical abilities. They were all interested in trying new experiences and had always wanted to travel by plane, making the prospect of actually piloting a plane beyond exciting.

“You can see in their eyes that this was such an incredible experience for them,” Klein said.

Smiling ear to ear from takeoff to landing, the participants were fully engrossed in the flight, enjoying the responsibilities of being entrusted to successfully pilot the simulator, and expressed interest in doing it again.

Klein praised El Al’s initiative and cooperation. Israel’s flagship airline has been badly hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, like all other airlines globally.

“It’s important for the residents to realize that they can dream bigger, they can reach further than what has been put in front of them as possibilities,” Klein said. “Even though they need specialized care, it shouldn’t make them think that they can’t do more.”

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