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State comptroller releases scathing report on Israel’s ‘Air Force One’

Average flight on ‘Wing of Zion’ shown to be 108% more expensive than chartering a plane; PM’s office had requested 100-120 passenger capacity, while average flight had only 61

Israel Aerospace Industries workers union chair Yair Katz unveils Wing of Zion on December 8, 2021. (Israel Aerospace Industries workers union)
Israel Aerospace Industries workers union chair Yair Katz unveils Wing of Zion on December 8, 2021. (Israel Aerospace Industries workers union)

In a scathing report Wednesday, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman highlighted many failings in the procurement and operation of Israel’s version of Air Force One.

The NIS 750 million ($241 million) plane, dubbed “Wing of Zion,” which took years to develop, is meant to be used by Israeli heads of state for official business.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog have not moved to use the plane yet, though.

In order to receive a license to fly, the plane must receive several approvals from the Prime Minister’s Office, which has been dragging its feet, reports have said.

The development of the plane was closely identified with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Proponents said it was crucial to securely transporting Israel’s top public figures, while critics, including members of the current governing coalition, claimed it was little more than a vanity project by a premier seeking to boost the optics of his trips abroad.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Bennett’s partner in the coalition, said during campaigns in recent years that he would not use the plane, calling it a waste of taxpayer money.

In the state comptroller report, it was found that the cost of an average flight on the still-grounded plane is expected to be NIS 5.2 million ($1.5 million), 108 percent higher than the average flight costs currently, with the government chartering a plane from an Israeli airline at an average cost of NIS 2.5 million ($759,000).

It was also found that while the Prime Minister’s Office requested the plane be able to accommodate 100-120 passengers, the average flight by the prime ministers in 2010-2013 included only 61 people.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to reporters before departing Ben Gurion Airport for Washington on August 24, 2021 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Englman also said that the NIS 729 million ($221.8 million) budget approved by the cabinet for the project was nearly NIS 137 million ($41.6 million) higher than the actual price tag of NIS 588 million ($179 million) presented by the Defense Ministry.

The increased expenditure was due in large part to security costs the Shin Bet Security Agency had only presented after a budget for the public tender was decided, which added NIS 92 million ($28 million) to the project’s cost.

The cabinet later in 2016 decreased the approved budget to NIS 590 million ($179.5 million) following recommendations from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Air Force.

However, the report did note that the plane is “a clear improvement over the previous situation… in the level of security, including defense of the plane and information security, communications, controls, the conditions inside the plane, service in it and its availability.”

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