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El Al


EL AL (Heb. "Skyward"), the State of Israel's national airline; founded in November 1948. Its original mission was to facilitate the transportation of Jewish immigrants. Using surplus World War ii aircraft – dc-4 Skymasters and C-46 Curtiss Commandos – and manned by volunteers from various parts of the world, it played a decisive role in rescuing Jewish communities in the Middle East. By 1949, however, El Al was flying scheduled routes between Israel and Rome and Paris. In the following year, it obtained the more modern Constellations, and with four of these planes routes were extended to include Athens, Vienna, Zurich, London, Nairobi, Johannesburg, and New York. Shortly afterward, Istanbul, Brussels, Amsterdam, Teheran, Frankfurt, Munich, and Copenhagen were added. By 1996, it served 50 intercontinental destinations including Cairo, Beijing, and New Delhi as well as nine cities in the U.S. In December 1957, El Al was the world's second air carrier to employ turboprops (four Bristol Britannias) for transcontinental service, and in January 1961 it procured three Boeing 707–420 intercontinental jet airliners. In June 1961 it inaugurated the first nonstop service between New York and Tel Aviv – then one of the world's longest nonstop scheduled commercial flights. El Al rapidly expanded its fleet to keep pace with the increasing development of tourism. By the mid-1960s it had two Boeing 720 b intermediate range jets, three standard intercontinental 707s, and two powerful 707–320 bs; it leased additional jet planes as required. In February 1969 an eighth plane was added and later in the year the airline acquired its first 320 C mixed cargo-passenger plane. Development plans included the acquisition of Boeing 747 Jumbo jets and two Boeing supersonic airliners. In 2004 the company had 28 Boeing aircraft: five 747–200s, four 747–400s, three 737–700/800s, six 767s, six 757s, and four 777–200s.

The majority shareholder in El Al is the Israeli government. Nearly all training is carried out at the company's headquarters at Lydda (Lod) Airport. All food served aboard its aircraft is kasher. The airliner does not fly on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. However, its subsidiary, Sundor, a charter airline company, works seven days a week. Sundor was established in 1977 for low-cost flights. In 2003 El Al employed more than 3,000 workers and had 77 offices all over the world. It flew to 40 direct destinations, and to many others by share agreements with several other aircraft companies. It carried over 1.3 million people a year and its annual turnover was about $1.2 billion. Sundor carried 250,000 passengers during the years 2001–4 in two 757–200 aircraft.

After the Six-Day War, El Al became a target for one of the Arab terrorist organizations, the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine. A Boeing 707 was hijacked to Algeria in July 1968 but was later returned to Israel. In December 1968, an El Al plane was attacked on the ground at Athens airport and one passenger killed, and an attack on another at Zurich in February 1969 resulted in the death of one of the crew. A hijacking attempt in 1970 was foiled by the crew. A Constellation, straying off course, was shot down over Bulgaria in 1955 (all passengers were killed and Bulgaria later paid compensation).

El Al played a crucial role during the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict, acting as Israel's sole airlink with the world when all other airlines had ceased flying to Israel. It also played a vital role in the 1990s in bringing Russian and Ethiopian immigrants to Israel. In the last two decades of the 20th century, the company faced serious economic problems. The government began privatization in 2003, issuing stock to the public. In 2004 the company showed a profit due to its increased share in both passenger and cargo flights.


Israel Economist, 24 (Jan. 1968), 11–19; El Al Public Relations Department, Twenty Years History of El Al (1969). Website:

[Arnold Sherman /

Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]

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