One of the most controversial airlines in the sky, El Al has managed to survive a lot during its history. If we take a look at any other airline in the world, no other airline had to go through that much. And if they did, the airline‘s history has a dot that closes down the whole story.
But El Al has persisted and managed to not only survive but thrive in the modern world. It is also regarded as one of the safest airlines in the world, as the security measures it takes to protect its passengers are next level. And that is putting it lightly.
The story of El Al is pretty complex, as is the story of Israel. But let us put politics aside and dive deeper into the history of Israel‘s national flag carrier.
The roots of the airline can be traced back to 1948, when the current Israeli president at the time, Haim Weizmann, flew from Geneva back to Israel. As Switzerland disallowed military aircraft in landing in its territory, the Israelis converted a Douglas C-54 Skymaster into a civilian aircraft and completed its first flight. El Al successfully brought the president back home.
Even before starting their first flights, El Al participated in an operation called Magic Carpet. It helped lift over 49,000 Yemenite Jews from Yemen. A trend that will continue throughout El Al’s history – these types of operations will become the norm.An El Al Bristol Britannia Over Tel Aviv
A year after the first flight, the airline eventually commenced commercial operations in 1949, opening up a route Tel Aviv – Rome – Paris. At the end of 1949, El Al added two more routes – to Johannesburg and London. Slowly but surely, the airline expanded its services throughout Europe, with added routes to other European capitals, namely Vienna, Istanbul and Athens.
I would like to briefly mention that the company established a cargo division as well – named El Al Cargo, which handed cargo that was exported/imported from or to Israel.
Anyhow, El Al kept growing and scheduled its first flights to the United States. Amidst all the expansion commercially, the airline managed to airlift more Jews from Arab countries. Namely, Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, where El Al contributed to the return of over 160.000 Jews to Israel.
As the 1950s ended, the airline expanded its network in Europe, specifically to West Germany. It also introduced one of kind services at the time – in-flight phone calls. The phone calls were also available while flying the ocean.El Al ad to advertise its routes to the United States
The airline has managed to become profitable in 1960 – the first time since it was founded. As the airline renewed its fleet and introduced the first jet engine aircraft, namely, Boeing 707 and the Boeing 720.
With the new jets, El Al achieved a record-breaking flight. Their non-stop scheduled flight between Tel Aviv and New York covered 9270 kilometers in 9 hours and 33 minutes.
But then the first troubles began, as politics finally caught up with the airline. In 1968 a plane was hijacked (El Al flight 426), but fortunately no one was hurt. After a few more hijacking and bombing incidents at airports and company offices, everything came to a close in 1970 – when terrorists attempted to hijack a Boeing 707. The only fatality during the whole ordeal was a hijacker.
When the political situation in Iran went south, El Al assisted in airlifting Jews from Iran to Israel, acquiring another airlift mission under its name.
But another major hitch was in the company‘s way – the worker strikes of 1982. After many disputes, El Al‘s operating license was suspended. A few months have passed by and under a new CEO, the company ran operations again. Nevertheless, the airline lost over 120 million dollars in 1982.
The airline has managed to quickly regain its positions and purchased its first Boeing 747s and Boeing 767s, while also expanding its network. El Al introduced flights to such cities as Montreal, Mexico, Chicago, Lisbon and others.
And it introduced another record-breaking flight. The Tel Aviv – Los Angeles flight, which covered 13.000 kilometers in distance and took 13 hours and 41 minutes.
As the political situation started to turn the tide in Europe, El Al began flying to Poland and then still, Yugoslavia. As the Soviet Union collapsed, the airline used this opportunity to introduce first flights to Moscow. Subsequently, after permission was granted, it began airlifting Jews from the Soviet Union and airlifted almost half a million Jews from Russia. As the former Soviet airspace became open to use, El Al introduced its first flight to China. Namely, Beijing with a newly purchased Boeing 747-400.
Another airlift operation was in the plans – Operation Solomon. Israeli aircraft managed to transfer over 14,000 Jews in less than 2 days. One El Al flight carried a record-breaking 1087 passengers on a cargo Boeing 747.
After the late 1990s were fairly unsuccessful for the airline as it kept recording losses (although it secured new Boeing 777 aircraft), the Israeli government decided to privatize the company. In 2005 the airline was fully in the hands of a private entity.
The 21st century marked a renewal of the company – with new aircraft, specifically the Boeing 737 and Boeing 787.
As of now, El Al operates 42 aircraft and flies to 37 direct destinations all over the globe. More destinations are available with code-sharing agreements.Boeing 747
As Israel takes its safety very seriously, that transfers to the airline as well. El Al is the only airline in the world equipped with missile defense systems. It protects its aircraft from surface to air missiles, launched from the ground.
El Al’s boarding agents also interview every passenger before a flight to determine whether he is a threat or not. These measures while are fairly controversial, but they ensure that the airline has managed to remain one of the safest airlines in the air currently.
To summarize everything, I do believe that we all can learn something from El Al’s history. A company which went through many hardships has managed to overcome the odds and stay in the air for 70 years. And while connecting people all around the world, El Al has also saved many people from disaster during many of its airlifts throughout history.
Thus, El Al is truly the pride of Israel in the sky.