TEL AVIV (Jun. 6)
An intriguing proposal for the joint design and production of a new passenger plane by the United States, Soviet Union and Israel is currently under discussion.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of the idea with members of Congress last Friday, during the Washington summit. Outlining several “interesting projects,” he said the Soviet Union could build the bodies, the United States the engines and Israel the avionics and cockpit instruments.
Israel and the Soviet Union signed a memorandum of understanding in January for cooperation in communications and industry, despite the absence of full diplomatic relations between the two countries. IAI has sent representatives to the Soviet Union to discuss the project.
But Mordechai Hod, chairman of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), which would handle the Israeli end of the proposed project, warned that the idea is still in its infancy.
Hod is quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that the initiative for the development of the plane came from a group of U.S. entrepreneurs, including Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum; Al Schwimmer, the former director of IAI; and Israeli multimillionaire Shaul Eisenberg.
The proposed project would compete with plans for a new European aircraft.
Yitzhak Geva, previous general manager of the Bedek division of IAI and former head of the Israeli air force’s equipment division, also had words of caution.
“You do not have to be an aeronautics expert to determine that the Russians and the Americans can manage without us and build an aircraft without our involvement,” Geva told Ha’aretz.
Gorbachev’s statements were prefaced by comments made by Jewish financiers, such as media mogul Robert Maxwell, Hammer and Eisenberg.
The financiers have expressed their intention to assist the Russians in developing their civilian aeronautics industry, on condition that Israel participate in development and production together with the Americans.
“It appears that Gorbachev is willing to accept this condition as long as the money enabling him to develop the industry is invested and the foreign markets are opened up to it,” Geva said.
He added that the technical manpower coming into Israel with the current wave of new immigrants from the Soviet Union could be a key reason for the discussion of the new project.