El Al Poised to Fly Again

The first El Al passenger flight in four months will take off tomorrow — or it may not. The immediate future of the bankrupt national air carrier hung literally in mid-air today while a Jerusalem district court pondered a request by the Israel Pilots Association to rule invalid an agreement signed recently between Histadrut, a court-appointed temporary receiver and the airline management.

The pilots said if the court rules against their request, they will staff the planes tomorrow, though under protest. They have refused to accept Histadrut as their bargaining agent because their dispute with management involves safety-related work rules, the pilots say. All other El Al employes have accepted the agreement, even though it means dismissal of at least 10 percent of them and the loss of benefits and prerogatives gained over years of union bargaining.

El Al sources appeared confident that the carrier would be back in business tomorrow with a fully booked flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. All seats are booked on the return flight as well, the sources said. There was no mention if or when service would be resumed on El Al’s other international routes which include Western Europe and North America.

The Knesset’s Finance Committee appropriated only $46 million of the $100 million the government requested to resume operations. The sum voted is sufficient only to pay bills immediately due and to resume marketing activities for about two months. The committee said the rest of the money would be made available only on the basis of progress reports which demonstrated that the company’s reorganization plan and new efficiency measures were working.

Labor members of the committee said a quarter billion dollars is needed to cover El Al’s debts, pay severance to employes slated for dismissal and enable the airline to organize properly to do business. They said the Likud government must make up its mind whether it wants to finance El Al as a national airline or sell it off to private interests. They can’t have it both ways, the opposition warned.

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