With flights grounded, El Al furloughs 500 more employees including 100 pilots

National carrier, which is seeking a government bailout to stay afloat, is no longer flying at all after talks between pilots and management broke down earlier in the week

FILE — Israeli pilots of the El Al national airline, at the airport, on April 20, 2010. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
FILE — Israeli pilots of the El Al national airline, at the airport, on April 20, 2010. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

El Al furloughed 500 more staff, including 100 pilots, on Thursday, amidst a labor dispute that has seen the struggling national carrier ground all its flights into and out of the country.

According to Hebrew media reports, aside from pilots, the furloughed staff is comprised of maintenance workers, flight attendants and ground crews.

“Since the pilots refuse to staff the flights — which include cargo flights and a limited number of passenger flights — we are forced to make personnel adjustments,” El Al said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the airline stopped flights altogether after labor talks blew up between the pilots committee and management.

The empty arrival hall at the Ben Gurion airport on June 12, 2020. (Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Tensions at the airline have been high after it slashed the vast majority of its workforce and dipped into pension funds to stay afloat amid the coronavirus crisis. The airline is seeking a government bailout to save it from insolvency and collapse.

Prior to the latest round of furloughs, it had put 80 percent of its 6,303 workers on unpaid leave, cut management salaries by 20%, halted investments, and signed accords for the sale and lease-back of three Boeing 737-800s.

Hundreds of food service workers at El Al subsidiary Tamam, which produces Kosher airline meals for multiple carriers operating through Ben Gurion International Airport, have also been furloughed, sparking concerns regarding the possibility of mass layoffs.

The firm also owes some $350 million to passengers whose flights were canceled because of the pandemic.

Grounded El Al planes at Ben Gurion Airport on April 6, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

According to the Ynet news site, Wednesday’s flights were canceled after negotiations between pilots committee representative Nir Reuveni and airline CEO Gonen Usishkin ended without resolution on Tuesday evening.

The pilots then refused to staff Wednesday’s flights, with the airline’s management reportedly responding that if they would not fly, they would be transferred to other active positions in the company, with many of them needing to be furloughed as a result.

A quarterly report for January-March issued late Tuesday showed $140 million in losses for the company in the first quarter of 2020, versus $55 million in losses for the same period last year. Revenue was down to $320 million for the quarter, a drop from $428 million last year.

The airline has prolonged the suspension of scheduled commercial flights until the end of July, but had said it would continue to use its aircraft for cargo and occasional passenger flights.

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