EL AL – History of Israel’s National Airline
EL AL was established in 1948 as the national airline of Israel and since then has become a prestigious international carrier.
The guidelines by which the company operates are creativity, efficiency, punctuality and professionalism, in order to meet its passengers’ requirements at all times and places. Through broad global coverage supported by an international chain of 77 sales offices and warm Israeli hospitality, EL AL has become more than a means of transport from one place to another in the world. It has been ranked by IATA as one of the most efficient airlines in the world.
In September 1948 EL AL operated its festive maiden flight, bringing home Israel’s first President, Professor Haim Weizmann, from a diplomatic visit to Geneva. As the Swiss did not allow military planes to land in its territory, the young company embarked on a whirlwind operation that successfully converted a military Skymaster DC-4 into a civilian aircraft. “Rehovot” was the name given to the plane that opened the era of EL AL’s civilian flights.
One year later the airline began to operate commercial flights to Rome and Paris. Before that, however, in early 1949, it took part in Operation Magic Carpet, which brought the Jews of Yemen to Israel. EL AL owes its name to David Remez, the first Minister of Transport, who based the name on a passage from the book of Hosea.
From 1950 to 1956, EL AL flew more than 160,000 immigrants from Yemen, Iran and India to Israel, as part of Operation Magic Carpet and Operation Ezra and Nehemia. Towards the end of the decade, in 1958, EL AL operated its first regular flights to West Germany (Cologne) and Munich and in 1959 it operated flights to Teheran as well. In that year the airline introduced inflight telephone service, the first of its type in international flights over the ocean.
In May 1960 EL AL assisted in the capture and transfer of Nazi criminal Adolph Eichmann from Buenos Aires to Jerusalem, where he was put on trial. In June 1961 the airline operated its first nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to New York. The flight set a world record at the time as the longest commercial non-stop flight that lasted 9:33 hours and covered 5,760 miles. During its bar mitzvah year, in 1962, EL AL celebrated its one millionth passenger.
During the Yom Kippur War (1973) EL AL maintained the only air link between Israel and the rest of the world. EL AL also participated in the efforts to airlift military equipment. During this decade EL AL celebrated inaugural flights to many different destinations, among them Addis Ababa, Montreal, Marseilles, Mexico City, Lisbon, Chicago and Miami.
In April 1980, following the March 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt signed on the White House lawn, EL AL began opened a route between Tel Aviv and Cairo. Four years later, in March 1984, the company operated the first international flight of the Boeing 767 on the Montreal-Tel Aviv route. Four years later, EL AL broke the record for the longest continuous flight: 7,000 miles in 13:4 between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.
The fall of the Iron Curtain was one of the major events of the decade and as early as January 1990, EL AL marked a historic inaugural flight to the capital of the former Soviet Union, Moscow. Another emotional moment in EL AL’s long history was recorded on May 24, 1991 when a Boeing 747 carried a record number of people – 1,087 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel. The flight from Addis Ababa to Israel was part of Operation Solomon, which brought the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel. In the operation, about 51,000 immigrants were airlifted from Ethiopia.
In September 1992 EL AL inaugurated its Beijing route, after a Boeing 747-200 plane flying the flag of Israel crossed the steppes of Siberia and opened new horizons to Southeast Asia. A year later flights were inaugurated to Mumbai (then Bombay) and Bangkok. In June 1996 the company operated its first flight to Amman, following the peace agreement signed between Israel and Jordan.
In March 2000 EL AL celebrated the inaugural flights of its first Boeing 777 aircraft. In additional to technological innovations, EL AL also underwent significant changes in those years; in 2003 it was registered on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange as part of the privatization process. A year later, in June 2004, the company ceased to be a government company – after stock purchases by the public and the realization of stock options, governmental holdings in the company declined to less than 50 percent.
In January 2005 control of EL AL moved to private hands, as the Knafaim-Arkia Holding Group took possession of about 40 percent of the stock capital. A decision by the stockholders led to far-reaching changes in the directorate. Two months later EL AL’s CEO Amos Shapira resigned and was replaced by Haim Romano, who initiated a change in the company’s organizational structure.
In September 2005 the EL AL 2010 Strategic program was introduced, setting the company’s direction for the next five years. The supreme aims of the program included significant improvement in commercial results by 2010 as well as a series of objectives that included improving passenger experience, fostering operational excellence, innovation and commercial entrepreneurship, purchasing new equipment, improving cargo and maintenance and fostering human resources.
The Second Lebanon War in July 2006 significantly affected passenger movement to and from Israel. During that year EL AL continued to implement EL AL 2010, adapting it to security, political and economic developments in Israel, including a continued rise in the prices of jet fuel and increasing competition.
A year later EL AL completed the purchase of two Boeing 777-200 aircraft which were outfitted with the most advanced seats and entertainment systems of their kind. The airline also signed agreements to lease several other planes. In 2008 the company leased a Boeing 747-400 plane and two 737-800 aircraft, and signed an agreement to purchase four new 777-200 aircraft from Boeing. In 2007 the airline distributed the first dividend in its history to shareholders.
2010 – Present Day
August 2010 marked EL AL’s entry into Israel’s domestic flight market, with regular flights to Eilat. Before that, EL AL added a sixth 747-400 plane to its fleet and celebrated the addition of its first female captain, Smadar Shechter, to its crew. As part of its community activity, EL AL adopted a paratrooper unit, in conjunction with the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers.
A new service – EL AL Upgrade – was announced in May 2012. This is an innovative and convenient system for upgrading to premium classes, purchasing Preferred Seats in Economy Class and more. In addition, EL AL introduced a new cabin class – Economy Class Plus – an enhanced Economy Class with more comfortable seats featuring greater recline and legroom and other special plusses.
In 2012, EL AL’s Matmid Frequent Flyer Club won the coveted Freddie Award as the best frequent flyer program in the Middle East. In addition, the airline won the Gold Effie Award, in the services, vacation and leisure categories with its “Fly the Way You Like” campaign which offered passengers a selection of services that can be performed on the EL AL website. In addition to these honors, EL AL was chosen as one of the world’s top 20 leading airlines by the popular Travel + Leisure magazine.
At the end of 2012, as EL AL parted ways with its Boeing 757 aircraft after 25 years of operations, the airline introduced an interface for vacations through which customers can purchase many travel services, such as hotels, travel insurance and car rental. This expanded customer service and enabled customers to purchase all of their travel services in one place: a one-stop shop!
The end of 2013 was marked by a period of renewal. In October EL AL presented its planes of the future for short-haul flights – the narrow body Boeing 737-900, eight of which were purchased. In November the airline launched UP, its new low cost aviation brand, to meet the changing needs of the airline’s customers and of the aviation world. With UP, customers can create the product that suits their needs and choose how much they wish to pay, assuring affordable fares to suit every pocket.
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