Hope For El Al? Israel Starts Planning The Reopening Of Aviation

Struggling airline El Al received a glimmer of hope Sunday evening, as it was announced that the Transportation Ministry had submitted a plan to reopen Israel’s skies. The proposal, which aims to reduce quarantine time for so-called ‘green countries’, must first be approved by the Health Ministry and then by the coronavirus cabinet.

El Al 767 in flight, Ben Gurion
El Al’s passenger services have been disrupted since mid-March. Photo: Getty Images

Could Israel open its skies soon?

On Sunday, it was announced that the Transport Ministry had come up with a potential plan to reopen Israeli skies. Under the proposal, incoming travelers from countries with low infection rates will only have to spend five days in quarantine, reduced from 14. The so-called ‘green countries’ could include Greece and Cyprus.

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It’s a different story for passengers from countries that are still experiencing high COVID rates. Under the proposal, high-risk countries or ‘red countries’ will have to produce a negative COVID-19 test before they are allowed to fly.

This plan now awaits approval by the Health Ministry and the coronavirus cabinet. No target date has been mentioned for the resumption of flights.

This plan could be the light at the end of the tunnel for Israeli national flag carrier, El Al. The current health crisis has heavenly impacted the airline. If the plan is approved, it could mean that it will be able to restart its operations sooner than hoped. El Al reported massive losses in the first half of 2020 as passenger services were reduced when Israel shut its borders. The carrier stopped flying altogether at the beginning of July when the pilots refused to fly amid a labor crisis. 

The airline was handed a lifeline earlier in July when it agreed on a rescue plan with the Israeli Government. The rescue package, worth $400 million, was agreed to help it sustain its operations and prevent it from falling under.

El Al grounded
After receiving $400 million in aid, El Al will likely be nationalized in the future. Photo: Getty Images

Israel’s health crisis continues

Israel recently extended flight restrictions until at least September 1st, following a spike in coronavirus cases. As a result, all foreign nationals are barred from entering Israel unless they have received a special exemption from the Population and Immigration Authority. Repatriation flights are enabling Israeli citizens to return home.

In mid-June, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had estimated that Israel would be able to resume flights on August 1st with possible routes opening with Cyprus and Greece. This has now changed, as the number of daily cases in the country has shot up. At the time of the announcement, Israel was reporting less than 100 new cases per day. At the current time, this is closer to 2,000.

El Al has suspended flights until the end of August, with the mandatory furlough of its employees also extended.

Ben Gurion Airport
Ben Gurion Airport could be home to COVID-19 testing labs. Photo: Chris Hoare via Flickr

Ben Gurion Airport to have rapid testing labs?

Airport authorities at Ben Gurion Airport said they are drawing up plans to have a rapid testing laboratory at the airport. The Jerusalem Post confirmed that a meeting took place last week between Israel’s Airport Authority, the National Security Council, and the ministries of Health and Transportation to discuss setting up these laboratories via a private contractor.

Under this plan, foreigners could undergo testing upon arrival in Tel Aviv and would need to quarantine for just 24 hours while they wait for results. It is hoped, that if approved, the labs could be in place at some point in September.

Although this plan has not been confirmed, the fact that Israel is looking at several possibilities to restart air operations must be encouraging news for its struggling national carrier.

Do you think Israel could open its skies sooner than expected? Let us know in the comments.