El Al (illustration)
El Al (illustration) Public Relations

The summer is approaching and with it the heavy air traffic of many Israelis traveling abroad as tickets sell out fast. But El Al, Israel's leading airline, apparently is unprepared for the upcoming season as it suffers a severe shortage of pilots.

The shortage was revealed on Wednesday by Channel 2, which noted in recent weeks many El Al flights have been delayed, cancelled or transferred to other companies, harming thousands of passengers due to the manpower shortage.

El Al pilot committee chairperson Nir Tzuk was cited by the news site revealing the huge overload on the pilots, saying, "we are working at least 120-150%, some of us work a 200% position, almost everyone."

"Every day, all the time, there are not enough pilots, in my estimation 20-30% of the flights at least every month are not planned with pilots. It harms the company. What's important is to give the passengers what they paid for."

Channel 2 reports that it received a document in which the head of the company's air operations department wrote to the pilots, saying, "recent weeks have been characterized by daily difficulties in manning the flights."

"I understand and am concerned by the great pressure and our ability to continue to function this way, and therefore actions have been taken, including a reduction in operations. Try to help by answering as soon as possible."

His request for an "answer" refers to notifications sent to El Al pilots on a near daily basis requesting they fill the shortages. A sample notification reads: "the morning flights in the 737 fleet is lacking 7 captains and 5 first officers."

The short-notice requests come about due to the fact that the company is not staffing all of its flights in advance due to the shortage, and therefore the pilots are called up at the last moment.

According to sources in El Al, currently there is a shortage of 30 captains before the company is able to return to normal operations, and a recruitment of that many new pilots could take months.

In the meantime the company is facing a backlash of disappointed customers who suffered delays or cancellations, or even transfers to another flight company, leading El Al to a serious problem regarding its reputation.

El Al wrote a statement in response to the Channel 2 report, saying, "in recent months unfortunately there is a phenomenon in which flights go out with double crews, in which the crew that flies the flight in one direction returns on the return flight as a non active crew, creating a temporary shortage of pilots."

"It should be emphasized that at the same time there is splitting (of crews), the pilots are undertaking the flights, of course within the limitation in availability that they created. Last week an agreement was reached to shorten the time spent by pilots in the US, which will improve their availability."