Israeli Netanyahu's controversial new ‘Air Force One’
Long delayed and over budget, Israel's PM was about to receive a VIP-configured Boeing 767 to fly him around the world. Fearing criticism amid an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the plane has now been grounded ■
In Israel’s early years, official trips abroad by heads of state were rare. When they did take place, they were either on an Israel Air Force transport or a scheduled El Al flight. Over the years, Israel's leaders used military planes, and later chartered civilian flights. But the mounting cost and lack of encrypted communication systems on civilian airlines led to the need for a dedicated prime minister’s plane.
In 2014, a government panel authorized the purchase of a dedicated plane that would serve both the prime minister and president on overseas trips. The contract was awarded to Israel Aerospace Industries, which purchased a used Boeing 767-300ER. After three years in storage in California after being retired by its owner, Qantas, it was flown to Israel in July 2016 for conversion.
The original budget for its purchase, conversion and upgrade was 393 million shekels ($115 million), which by the time it first flew had grown by 50 percent to 580 million shekels. Operating the plane is expected to cost taxpayers 44.6 million shekels annually. Buying a dedicated plane was criticized – especially after it vastly exceeded the original budget – and its inauguration was postponed several times. Currently, it has been reported that the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the plane be grounded, fearing it would draw criticism during a major economic crisis with mounting unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new plane made its first test flight in November 2019, sporting a new blue-and-white livery. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given it the name “Knaf Zion” (“Wing of Zion”), though as it made its initial test flights, Netanyahu was struggling to form a government after a string of elections and it looked like he may never fly in it
- Ankara (AA) By Anshel Preffer | 09 August 2020