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Prime minister to get his own ‘Air Force One’ next year

Project approved by blue-ribbon panel following public complaints about Netanyahu’s pricey travel arrangements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, board their airplane to Africa for an official state visit in the continent on July 4, 2016 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, board their airplane to Africa for an official state visit in the continent on July 4, 2016 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will next year receive his own private plane, complete with special defense systems and advanced communications that will allow him to stay in touch with the ground at all times.

The details of the plane were kept under censorship until Sunday, according to Channel 2 news, which labeled the aircraft an “Israeli Air Force One.” The plane will also be used by President Reuven Rivlin.

The budget for purchasing and outfitting the plane was a reported $70 million — enough to purchase an advanced aircraft and install the necessary specialized equipment. Versions of the aircraft are capable of flying nonstop from Israel to North America.

The project was first approved in 2014 by the Goldberg Committee, which also approved the construction of a new residence and office for the prime minister.

At the time, a report in The Marker financial daily indicated that Treasury officials believed the plane’s purchase was not economically worthwhile but the committee declared that the decision was not to be based solely on financial considerations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport, August 24, 2009. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport, August 24, 2009. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

The decision also followed public outcry after it was revealed that the government had spent NIS 450,000 ($127,000) outfitting an El Al plane with a bed for the prime minister during a five-hour flight to the UK.

Until 2003, Israeli leaders flew on an Air Force 707 that served as a refueling plane when not carrying politicians. According to Channel 2, there were complaints from passengers that the aircraft was uncomfortable; in 1997 a window cracked on the plane while Netanyahu was on board, forcing the crew to fly at a low altitude.

Currently, a tender is issued to Israeli airlines when the prime minister travels. The system works well for mid-range destinations such as Europe, when all three Israeli airlines are able to compete, but for longer-range flights — such as to the US — only El Al has aircraft capable of nonstop flights.

According to Channel 2, El Al took advantage of this monopoly, charging very high prices for such flights and even on one occasion demanding $4,700 to place an oxygen tank on a flight for then-president Shimon Peres.

Peres ended up flying Air Canada instead.

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