Zeev Tepper in the cockpit
Zeev Tepper in the cockpitCourtesy of the photographer

Zeev Tepper is a haredi resident of the city of Elad, not far from Bnei Brak. He is also a qualified pilot, so when El Al announced on Sunday that due to "a shortage of qualified pilots" a flight crew could not be found to pilot the Prime Minister to Italy at the end of this week, he offered his services.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife are due to fly to Italy on Thursday, to meet with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Israel's version of Air Force One has yet to take to the skies due to numerous setbacks; meanwhile, the prime minister must use commercial airlines for travel, and El Al is required to issue a tender each time its services are required. This time, the deadline for applications expired on Sunday afternoon with no bids by either pilots or flight crew.

"We are working to man this flight ... in accordance with company procedures, as we have done countless times before," El Al said in a statement. "Since its establishment, El Al has flown heads of state for important national missions and will continue to do so in the future, whenever required ... The issue of manning the prime minister's flight is yet to be resolved due to a shortage of qualified pilots in our Boeing 777 squadron, among other reasons."

In conversation with Israel National News, Tepper related that he is a lawyer by profession but has been flying for the past ten years and is now willing to fly the prime minister on a purely voluntary basis. He added that he considers it a national embarrassment that a prime minister who was democratically elected faces a refusal of El Al pilots to fly him when they should realize that it was a privilege to do so.

Later on Sunday evening, El Al announced that it had finally found a crew.